The Long Petal of the Sea
by Isabel Allende


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

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Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.



An excerpt written by Elayne Clift: And here she allows Carme to articulate her story’s meaning. “Carme had said that if she died in Chile she wished to be buried in Spain where her husband and son Guillem were laid to rest, but if she died in Spain, she wanted to be buried in Chile next to the rest of her family. Why? Well just to cause trouble, she would say with a laugh. And yet it wasn’t simply a joke, it was the anguish of divided love, separation, of living and dying far from one’s loved ones.”

In her own words, Allende explains this book’s theme this way: “I have been a foreigner all my life,” she says, “first as a child of diplomats, then as a political refugee and now as an immigrant in the USA. Maybe that’s why a sense of place is so important in all my writing. Where do I belong? Where are my roots? Is my heart divided or has it just grown bigger? These are the questions faced by my protagonists in A Long Petal to the Sea, the title of which comes from a quote by Neruda. His poetry has always accompanied me in my nomadic existence.”


Inspired by the true story of Neruda, who commissioned a ship, the SS Winnipeg, to bring 2,200 refugees from Spain to Chile, the intertwined tales of the two families readers follow, track Victor and Roser, forced to marry for survival before they fall deeply in love years later; Roser’s son Marcel; Victor’s mother Carme; Ofelia, daughter of an elite Spanish family to whom Victor is attracted for a short but significant time; Ophelia’s mother, her maid, and her brother Felipe, among others.


1. Each chapter begins with a quote from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. How do those quotes frame the chapters? Was there a particular quote you liked best? Did your attention to these quotes change when Neruda became a character in the novel?

2. Discuss the significance of the title, A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA. What do you think it means?

3. Which character did you feel most drawn to, and why?

4. One page 41, Allende writes, “Despite this, the American officer still believed in the triumph of socialism. To him, equality was not only possible, but inevitable, and he practiced it like a religion.” How are ideals like socialism and equality represented in this novel? What other big concepts are examined?

5. What were your first impressions of Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera? How did your impressions change as the characters themselves transformed throughout the course of the novel?

6. When first asking Roser to marry him in order to secure a spot on the ship ferrying refugees to Chile, Victor asks if affection and respect can be enough for her. Do you think those two feelings are enough for any relationship, whether platonic or romantic? In what circumstances?

7. In the beginning of A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA, Allende writes about the many thousands of terrified refugees escaping to France, where a campaign of fear and hatred awaited them, about how nobody wanted these “filthy fugitives” or “repugnant beings who were going to spread epidemics, commit robberies and rape, and stir up a communist revolution.” Do you think those same sentiments towards refugees exist today? Why do you think refugees are so often stigmatized in history and in present day?

8. Each of the main characters experiences love at some point in the story --- Roser, Guillem, Victor, Ofelia, etc. What did you think of their different love stories? Which did you find the most realistic, the most heartbreaking or the most compelling? In what ways does love drive the plot of the book?

9. What role do politics play in this novel? How does Allende use conversations between characters --- like Juana, Felipe and Isidro --- to portray the tumultuous political climate during this time period? Why do you think these characters had different political opinions? Do you think different generations are destined to have conflicting opinions?

10. What do you think of Ofelia’s storyline? How did you feel about her decision to keep the baby and her family’s deception in telling her it died during childbirth? How was her life shaped by the decisions of men, from her father to her eventual husband Matias? What would have happened to her if Matias hadn’t married her?

11. How did you feel about the ending of A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA? Was it what you expected, what you hoped would happen? If not, how would you have constructed the ending?

12. What did you learn from reading A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA --- about this period in history, about Chilean culture or about human nature?

Questions compiled by: Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
May, 2020