*I received a free copy of In the Midst of Winter from Atria Books via Netgalley. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
Published by Atria Books on 31 October, 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident - which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster - a 60-year-old human rights scholar - hits the car of Evelyn Ortega - a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala - in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. Evelyn turns up at the teacher's house seeking help. At a loss, the teacher asks his tenant Lucia Maraz - a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile - for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.
In the Midst of Winter is a beautiful, melancholy tale, in which Allende intricately, yet seamlessly weaves three different pasts into a common present.
Not only does In the Midst of Winter span over several decades, it also includes four different countries. Allende’s lyrical writing brings the character to life, and with all their intricacies and flaws, they became very real to me. As usual, Allende doesn’t shy away from political turmoil, and with bright colours, she paints a vivid picture of the characters’ lives. From the countryside in Guatemala, to Rio de Janeiro, via Santiago and to Brooklyn. The cold, stark feeling of reality that was strong during the story never kept the hope at bay. Especially when it comes to Luzia.
As always when I read one of Allende’s novels, I am left feeling full, feeling more, knowing more. Through the characters and the way they shared their life stories, I got a better understanding as to what life can be like in central and South America. During dictatorship, and in the aftermath of it. Where families continue searching for loved ones for several decades.
All the while decorticating each character and their inner workings, there is also a strong sense of loyalty. Of family, and of a force bigger than them helping them move forward. Bringing three rather unlikely people together, Allende showed me that sometimes, the unexpected is what we should expect. That mystery can bring us a zest for life that had been forgotten. And that love and romance is something to dream of not matter our age.
In the Midst of Winter starts with Lucia, in current day Brooklyn, and her voice is very distinctive. She has been through a lot in her life, both when it comes to love, her work, her family, and the shaky political history of Chile.
Richard is Lucia’s boss and landlord. They know each other through traveling in the same academic circles, and used to be quite close friends when they corresponded by letters and lived far away from each other.
Evelyn is a young, Guatemalan woman, and her back story was probably the hardest for me to read. Her arrival in the US was not the easiest, and it was a very strange situation that brought her into Lucia’s and Richard’s orbit.
Writing style :
Past tense, third person point of view, each chapter follows either of the main characters, and there is often a switch between the past and the present. Allende is a master at this, and because each character has a very strong voice, it was easy to know whose chapter I was reading, even if I didn’t necessarily notice the chapter header.
Because of some of the tough subject matters – like civil war, civil rights, social climbing, immigration – there was definitely a bit of anxiety for me. However, I have to say the strongest emotion was hope, and love.
However, now that Lucia had grown accustomed to her space, her silence, and her solitude, she had concluded it would be a high price to pay to share her bed, bathroom, and closet, and that no man would be able to satisfy all her needs.
He kept his computer in the kitchen and the printer in an unused room on the third floor, where the only piece of furniture was a table for the machine. Luckily he lived alone and so did not have to explain the curious distribution of his office equipment, since few would understand his determination to get exercise by going up and down the steep stairs. In any case, he was forced to think twice before printing anything unnecessary, out of respect for the trees sacrificed to make paper.
It was better to believe in everything than in nothing; that way she ran less risk of angering the gods, just in case they did exist.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: