In the Midst of Winter...
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 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, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.
“In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
These words open In the Midst of Winter and they also close it. As well as being incredibly poignant and entirely beautiful, they are so meaningful within the context of this story. Isabel Allende has long been an author I admire. I read The House of Spirits about 20 years ago as an impressionable young woman and it made such an impact on me that I have returned to Allende’s work over the years, each time with renewed reverence for her insight and literary talent. I had a conversation last year about Allende’s novels with an Argentinean colleague of mine who insisted that Allende was best read in Spanish. I don’t have that bilingual luxury, but it makes me even more glad that her work is translated with speed nowadays, for we would be sadly at a loss if we weren’t able to experience her beautiful novels in English.
In the Midst of Winter is a quietly powerful novel, much in the way Allende’s usually are, but this one has a very clear and well timed agenda from the voice of someone who knows what they are talking about. I studied Brazil, the people and the environment, back at Uni in a unit of Environmental Geographical Sociology. This unit opened my eyes to so much I had previously been blind to, and I have retained an interest in the region and the plight of its people and its environment; consequently, the subject matter of this novel was a big drawcard for me. In light of the current leadership in the US and the anti-migrant sentiment prevalent, Evelyn Ortega’s story is a powerful reminder about the need for human rights policies and educated compassion. The lives of so many people in so many places around the world are horrific on an incomprehensible scale and those of us who are so fortunate to live in safety and comfort should understand what it means to be a migrant; to fully appreciate that the lengths refugees go to when attempting to enter a country is measurable with their desperation and the risk against their lives, not because they are dishonest and trying to take a short cut. The corruption surrounding entry into the US via Mexico is tragic; the resentment directed towards those who actually do make it across the border is even more so.
Isabel Allende has taken this tragically ongoing situation and skilfully woven it into a story that is as engrossing as it is unique. There is a dark Fargo-esque like quality to the events that bring Evelyn, Lucia and Richard together, yet for me, I chose to see this element as the catalyst that led to all of the truly great things that eventuated for these three characters, rather than pull it apart for plausibility. And there are some instances where I couldn’t help but laugh at this scenario of their own making; it is after all fiction and I’m sure anyone who has ever watched Fargo or Shameless will see where I’m coming from in terms of dark humour.
But it’s a beautifully moving novel and one that will stay in my mind for a very long time. Each character has a story to remember, a reason to have given up, but they are resolutely pressing on, and it’s this testimony to the human spirit that gives this novel its superstar quality.
“She knew the strange healing power words had…how important it was to share one’s pain and discover that others too had their fair share of it, that lives are often alike and feelings similar.”
In the Midst of Winter is a five gold star recommendation from me. The beautiful cover accurately reflects the stunning story encased within. A perfect read for those who love a story with emotional depth and modern societal relevance.
Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of a number of bestselling and critically acclaimed books, including The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, Stories of Eva Luna, Paula, My Invented Country, Of Love and Shadows, Daughter of Fortune, and The Japanese Lover. Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages and have sold more than sixty-five million copies worldwide. A lifelong activist and campaigner, she is the founder of the Isabel Allende Foundation, which promotes economic and social justice for women. In 2014, Barack Obama awarded Isabel Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honour. She lives in California. Her website is: www.isabelallende.com