Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Isabel Allende - 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.
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.

Comment: I was given this book as a Christmas' gift, one of the four books I got this year for that holiday. This is not my first book by the author, I've read several although the majority before I started this blog. While I can't say this is a favorite author, her books have been consistent enough for me to want to keep reading.

This is the most recent book by the author. I liked a note the included at the end of the book to give some information and she says she starts her new books on the 8th of January, every time. It was a cute note to know.
Anyway, this is a very contemporary story about three main characters, Lucia, a woman from Chile, Richard, an American man born in Brazil, and Evelyn, a young woman from Guatemala.
They meet in a cold winter day because Richard's and Evelyn's cars hit one another because of the snow and since Richard doesn't speak fluent Spanish, he gets his friend Lucia, who lives below stairs in his building, to help with the communication. As Evelyn's fears about the crash of the car reveal more serious problems, they embark on a journey to get rid of evidence while sharing their life stories.

This story isn't contemporary only because it's set in modern times and presents a background scenario (struggling with the cold and the snow) in Brooklyn. This book is quite heavy on the reasons why Latin people try to go to America and why they feel the need to so often leave everything they know to start again in a foreign country, with different rules and language. Most people tend to assume it's all about the money, the need to earn more to support families and obviously that is a huge part of the process and can probably be the driving factor, but it's not all.
People aren't stupid, thinking they will be luckier than others in trying to go through a dangerous and illegal process to get to a country that might not welcome them. We have no idea of what goes through people's heads, so... should we judge this much. What if it was the other way around?

While this book isn't about defending illegal immigration at all, it's a tale about the reasons why it can happen and often the situations people leave make it all worth it, even if when arriving, they do not find a place that they can be happy in. I was touched by the details of Evelyn's story the most and I can't help but being sad over the fact so many people make awful decisions, so many feel forced to comply with a situation for the wrong reasons and so on. While Evelyn's story focused on the challenges of illegally entering a country (especially in the light of recent events related to the US president's speeches and decisions), her attitude was always a hopeful one, even when things didn't go so well. I liked reading about her life experiences.

Richard's character was the one I felt the sadder about. He doesn't have a good past and what happened to him, his losses, and including his future choices as an older man, was very, very complicated to imagine. I think his tale is more about the impact of having different life experiences, living though different cultures and not being able to cope with things that get out of our control. He felt the character I could relate the most to, at a emotional level, at least.

Lucia is a teacher, she has had a rich life when it comes to experiences and struggles and losses but despite her path being one with many lessons to be learned wasn't as captivating as a character. She, too, has dealt with immigration but in a different way than Evelyn's.
All in all, their life experiences bring this book to life because although these are fictional characters, they can also embody thousands of real people pout there, whose minds and harts we don't know but always tend to forget about.

From an emotional POV, this is  strong read that I have appreciated. However, the story behind these people being together is a very weird one, along the lines of a crime story and because of this the plot just felt sort of silly and quite irresponsible from a ethical and social point of view. Plus, it's hard to imagine clever people like these characters would act so recklessly and without caring for real life issues such as fingerprints for instance.
I'm sure they would have been other ways to present the same characters being together and sharing fears and stories without the background situations.

This is contemporary fiction, the winter references do seem realistic, especially considering the weather outside, but things could have been even better, I think. Still, a very, very engaging read.
Grade: 7/10

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