As the novel begins, teenage Roser Bruguera is a poor Spanish farm girl with an uncanny gift for music. Moving into the home of a prominent music teacher to study, she promptly falls in love with the professor’s younger son, Guillem. Enter General Francisco Franco and his Fascist followers who oust the left-leaning Republican government in Spain after three years of bloody war.
Half a million refugees flee Spain for France, among them a pregnant Roser, aided by the professor’s older son, Victor, a physician. France, however, about to plunge into World War II, doesn’t want refugees and immediately confines them to ill-equipped internment camps. Recognizing the urgent need to get out of Europe, Victor and Roser find themselves in the orbit of Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda, who happens to be shepherding some two thousand refugees to Chile on the S. S. Winnipeg (true story).
I won’t include more details about how the action-packed lives of Roser and Victor unfold over the next 50 years. It’s a story that explores the nature of love and and complexities of family loyalty. About class inequality, politics, and the successive turnover of governments in Chile during the 1970s and 1980s. And the consequences to apolitical people, who simply want to live their lives.
I have read nearly all of Isabel Allende’s novels (The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, etc.) — in part because I admire the beautiful way she uses language. I was not, however, struck by that in reading this novel. (Though this may be the result of different translator.) This narration struck me as much more straightforward, less carefully crafted.
More about Isabel Allende.
You may be interested in my reviews of other Allende novels: