When the snowstorm of the century forces New York City to a hushed standstill, an icy car accident brings together three people with vastly different, but equally tragic pasts. Isabel Allende’s “In the Midst of Winter” masterfully illustrates the power of human resilience as she reveals how each person’s story brought them to that life-altering moment in time.
Evelyn, a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, suffers from mental and physical ailments. She is hiding a body in the trunk of the car she’s driving. Richard, an emotionally detached NYU professor in his 60s, lives a life of isolation and self-punishment. And Lucia is a 50-something, cancer-surviving divorcee from Chile.
Each character has suffered unimaginable events that have left them emotionally stunted. Allende threads the decades of political upheaval and gang violence in Chile and Guatemala through Lucia and Evelyn’s stories. She also tells Richard’s tragic tale of love, addiction, and loss.
Allende vividly describes the ongoing struggle of millions of South and Central American refugees. Many of these people put their lives at risk and make great sacrifices in order to reach the U.S. border and gain asylum. Evelyn’s dangerous trek across Guatemala and Mexico, for example, includes a harrowing night-crossing of the Rio Grande river. Her journey is both heart-breaking and a testament to the resiliency and determination of the human spirit.
Following the devastating loss of his children and his wife’s suicide, Richard is overcome with feelings of guilt and regret. Lucia is torn between her grief over her brother’s long-ago disappearance and her newfound hope after winning her battle with cancer. The trio’s years of loneliness and isolation finally come undone when they decide to work together to deal with the body in the trunk of Evelyn’s employer’s car.
As the mystery surrounding the body unfolds, Allende explores a number of issues, including mental health, immigration, human trafficking, poverty, domestic violence, LGBTQ acceptance, and social justice. She also delves into the complexities of life as we grow old.
In the 1940s, French writer Albert Camus wrote, “In the midst of winter, I have found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” His words resound not only as the novel’s running theme, but also as the phrase that ties the characters’ life journeys together on the final page.
“In the Midst of Winter” paints the pictures of three very different people. But as people who have endured tragedy, Allende reveals how much they have in common. In the end, her book is about journeying toward acceptance, peace, and ultimately, love.
Reviewer Tamra Fatemi-Badi is the Event Coordinator at WPSU. She’s also the co-chair of Penn State’s Outreach and Online Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.
The Council selected “In the Midst of Winter” as their 2021 winter book club read. The virtual book club discussion will take place on April 15th at 1:00pm. RSVP for the discussion here.