Home Is Where We Keep Our Books

Mary's Bookshelves

My childhood home was littered with books on every available surface. They were stacked in wobbly piles on the floor, and two deep on the few makeshift shelves that threatened to collapse as we rooted around for something interesting to read. Imagine my unbridled delight at having floor to ceiling, wall to wall shelves in my adult home! Imagine also what it must be like to have no home, no place to call your own, and even worse, no country to rest your weary bones. The luxury of bookshelves must seem so far away when you have to leave everything you have ever known to arrive destitute and unwelcome in another land.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”
—Warsan Shire

Isabel Allende has been with us through her novels since 1982 with The House of the Spirits, a captivating story written in the style of magic realism. In her own life she had to flee from Peru, the country of her birth, to find shelter with her parents in Chile. She was then exiled to Venezuela before finally ending up in California where she now has plenty of bookshelves to call her own. Her biography is a breathless account of drama, tragedy, movement, and through it all the search for a homeland.

A Long Petal of the Sea is Allende’s latest novel, written in a completely different style to her earlier books. The story opens in Spain in 1938, a turbulent time when the country was at war with itself. Victor Dalmau, a young doctor, tends to the wounded soldiers in appalling circumstances until he must leave or be killed himself. He crosses into France with his family, where their presence is barely tolerated while they wait for a ship to arrive that will take them to Chile under the protection of the poet, Pablo Neruda. But, like Allende herself, Victor and his family must move again and again in search of a peaceful home and a place to put their books. Beautifully written, timely in its message, A Long Petal of the Sea is my recommendation for book clubs and fans of fabulous fiction.

Foreigners, here it is,
This is my homeland,
Here I was born and here live my dreams.
—Pablo Neruda

Mary says she is in the enviable position of combining work with pleasure as books are what have always sustained her in good times and bad!

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