All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: In The Midst Of Winter by Isabel Allende

on December 7, 2017

In The Midst Of Winter
Isabel Allende (translated by Nick Caistor & Amanda Hopkinson)
Scribner
2017, 340p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher}:

New York Times bestseller Isabel Allende returns with a beautifully crafted novel of struggle, endurance and friendship against the odds.

Amid the biggest Brooklyn snowstorm in living memory, an unexpected friendship blossoms between three people thrown together by circumstance. Richard Bowmaster, a lonely university professor in his sixties, slides on the ice and hits the car driven by Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented migrant from Guatemala. But what at first seems an inconvenience takes an unforeseen and darker turn when Evelyn comes to him and his neighbour, Chilean academic Lucia Maraz, desperately seeking help. 

Sweeping from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala to turbulent 1970s Chile and Brazil, and woven with Isabel Allende’s trademark humanity, passion and storytelling verve, In The Midst Of Winter is a mesmerising and unforgettable tale.

Isabel Allende is a very prolific and well known author and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read one of her novels, Daughter Of Fortune and that it was probably almost 10 years ago now. I’m pretty sure there are a couple more on our shelves – I think my husband had quite a few of her books before we even met and it was at his urging that I read my one title.

This novel is released upside down here, as it takes place during one of Brooklyn’s biggest snowstorms and I read it during Melbourne’s record breaking November heatwave. Lucia Maraz is a Childean academic currently working in New York and she rents a basement apartment in a brownstone owned by Richard Bowmaster. Lucia entertained thoughts of a romance with Richard, who she knew in academic circles prior to moving to America but things in that area have been distinctly disappointing. It isn’t until Evelyn Ortega turns up on the brownstone’s doorstep the morning after Richard rear-ends the car that she was driving that thing take a dramatic turn as Richard and Lucia are drawn into Evelyn’s dire predicament.

Lucia is the driving force in helping Evelyn “deal” with the problem she has inadvertenly encountered and the three band together in order to get it done, sharing their stories along the way – and it is those stories that truly shine in this book, particularly Evelyn’s. A young girl who had two older brothers, one drawn into the gang life in Guatemala, Evelyn paid the price and so her grandmother and a local priest helped organise passage (illegally) to America, where her mother was living and working. Evelyn’s story is truly tragic and harrowing and the detailing of her arduous journey to reach America and the limbo that she was kept in for years is terribly sad. It said something that the woman was still able to function. She had a job in New York, working as a carer for a disabled boy and Evelyn, even in her distress at her situation, is still concerned enough to have Lucia check anonymously on her charge. She knows that her voice would never be heard – despite entering the country as a minor, her case was never heard while she was still underage and if she were to go to the police she’d likely be deported immediately, if she wasn’t jailed. There’s no doubt that Evelyn should’ve been granted asylum, given what she’d been through but I’m sure it’s exceedingly difficult for women like Evelyn to truly share what has happened to them. Perhaps she doesn’t even remember all of it, so traumatised was she after the event.

Lucia and Richard also share their stories and both of those were so interesting and contained many unexpected elements – especially Richard’s. I really loved the delving into the past for each of the three characters and showing how they’d come to be in that exact place that morning in Brooklyn. The fact that three people could come together and share the most intimate details of their lives, connected by a plan to help an innocent was such a fascinating idea. Loved, loved, loved that portion of the book.

What I didn’t really love so much was the way the actual plan played out. I understand why they (Lucia in particular) were helping Evelyn, because she was definitely an innocent victim in the situation and genuinely feared for her safety/life. But there was something a little distasteful about it and I can’t really go into why I found it distasteful without revealing precisely what they were doing. I just found myself really actually thinking about the implications of their plan for two people and it definitely made me uncomfortable. The longer it went on, the more it bothered me – and the ending really bothered me. Maybe it was realistic, I’m not sure. I was annoyed by the fact that it was brushed away as being unimportant. It just didn’t sit well with me when I closed the book and I didn’t really like feeling that way.

But the writing is amazing. And the histories of each character are so rich that I can forgive it for a lot of things.

7/10

Book #194 of 2017


3 responses to “Review: In The Midst Of Winter by Isabel Allende

  1. She’s right her in Northern California, and I don’t think I’ve read any of her books! Shameful.

  2. Lovely review. I also need to update my Allende reading.

  3. I’m currently reading this, about 100 pages to go. I’m an Allende fan, her writing is so wonderful. I know what you mean here about the discomfort factor though – it strikes me as a bit Fargo-like and I think that’s why I’m not too bothered by it.

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