In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
I admit I am a fan of Isabel Allende, so when In the Midst of Winter was released, I knew that it would take a top position on my To-Read list.
Publisher’s Summary: 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. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucía 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, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.
Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
I knew from listening to The House of the Spirits, that I would appreciate the audio version of In the Midst of Winter. The three different narrators in this performance provide another layer of meaning to the text.
Allende draws on her personal experiences in the story-line of Lucía Maraz. As the god-daughter of the first Socialist president of Chile, Salvadore Allende, she rebelled against the male authority of the police and the church. But it was when Pinochet led the military in a coup that toppled the government that she knew she and her husband and children needed to leave Chile.
But In the Midst of Winter never feels heavy-handed or over-balanced with human suffering. Examples of the violence and terror committed by the 60,000 member MS-13 gang, abject poverty, and political corruption are not down-played. It is Allende’s gift of language and her understanding that the human existence is batted between the poles of hope and despair – hence the reference to Albert Camus’s quote “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer,” – that make her such an entertaining story-teller.
Allende includes cultural and political insights into Chile and Guatemala as well as the ethnic groups within those countries. This becomes the basis for the magical realism that informs both the attitudes and behaviors of Lucía and Evelyn.
Many issues are addressed, including rape as a weapon of terror, human and illegal drug trafficking, and the policies that promote and allow these to occur and continue. But these are integral to the plot.
However, it is true that literature can build empathy and In the Midst of Winter is rife with opportunities to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also by Allende:
The Japanese Lover – In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps. Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.
Ripper – The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other. Yet, while their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day. Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian. Long divorced from Amanda’s father, she’s reluctant to settle down with either of the men who want her. While her mom looks for the good in people, Amanda is fascinated by the dark side of human nature, like her father, the SFPD’s Deputy Chief of Homicide. Brilliant and introverted, the MIT-bound high school senior is a natural-born sleuth addicted to crime novels and Ripper, the online mystery game she plays with her beloved grandfather and friends around the world. When a string of strange murders occurs across the city, Amanda plunges into her own investigation, discovering, before the police do, that the deaths may be connected. But the case becomes all too personal when Indiana suddenly vanishes. Could her mother’s disappearance be linked to the serial killer?
Maya’s Notebook – After the death of her beloved grandfather, nineteen-year-old Maya Vidal, turning to drugs, alcohol, and petty crimes, becomes trapped in a war between assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol, until her grandmother helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile where she tries to make sense of her life.
Zorro – Witnessing the injustices against Native Americans by European settlers from childhood, Diego de la Vega, the son of an aristocratic Spanish landowner and a Shoshone mother, returns to California from school in Spain to reclaim the hacienda on which he was raised to seek justice for the weak and helpless. A swashbuckling adventure story that reveals for the first time how Diego de la Vega became the masked man we all know so well Born in southern California late in the eighteenth century, Diego de la Vega is a child of two worlds. His father is an aristocratic Spanish military man turned landowner; his mother, a Shoshone warrior. At the age of sixteen, Diego is sent to Spain, a country chafing under the corruption of Napoleonic rule. He soon joins La Justicia, a secret underground resistance movement devoted to helping the powerless and the poor. Between the New World and the Old, the persona of Zorro is formed, a great hero is born, and the legend begins. After many adventures — duels at dawn, fierce battles with pirates at sea, and impossible rescues — Diego de la Vega, a.k.a. Zorro, returns to America to reclaim the hacienda on which he was raised and to seek justice for all who cannot fight for it themselves.