Isabel Allende is sitting in a plush Soho hotel, a far cry from the London she remembers visiting as a struggling student, surviving on “horsemeat and fries”. The diminutive 77-year-old author cuts an elegant figure, dressed in a chic yellow jacket decorated with images of birds and flowers. Allende is in the UK to promote her latest excellent novel A Long Petal of the Sea. She talks drolly about life on the road as an author and is adamant this will be her last world tour.
The title of her new book comes from a quote by Pablo Neruda, the late poet who raised funds to commission the cargo ship SS Winnipeg that brought two thousand Spanish refugees to Chile during the Second World War. Her epic novel is built around the migrants fleeing General Franco’s fascist homeland.
“I wanted to pay homage to Neruda and his poems open every chapter,” Allende says. “The title happened after I stumbled on a sentence where he describes Chile as “a long petal of sea, wine and snow”. Look at the map; Chile looks like a long petal.”
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