Believe it or not but In the Midst of Winter was the very first book I read by Isabelle Allende. I bought The House of the Spirits a little while ago to read it in the original Spanish, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe I’ll have to bring it with me on my Christmas break to read it in Milan.
Getting to see Allende speak in person earlier in December was an amazing experience. She has such a vibrant spirit and she was downright hilarious in all her funny asides about her life (like how her mother continues to be scandalized by any sex scenes in her novels). Listening to her speak about her writing process and the important topics she loves to write about made me feel like I need to read all of her works asap.
After the event, I started reading In the Midst of Winter and got through it within a couple days. It definitely wasn’t highly complex literary fiction but I have to say I loved how straightforward it felt – it was unapologetic about being a more accessible read and its characters and settings still felt warm and moving. It’s the kind of book you could recommend to a pretty broad array of readers. Keep reading to find out more!
10 Things I Learned About Isabelle Allende
At Her Author Event
- She starts a new book every January and she started In the Midst of Winter in January 2016, during a blizzard she experienced from her Brownstone in New York.
- She sees herself reflected in the character of Lucia within the novel, because she’s like a lot of other Chilean women and like Allende herself – bossy, vain and romantic.
- The character of Richard was based on 2 people – her brother Juan who is an academic and vegan with four cats, as well as a friend she emails with.
- She’s been significantly involved in helping refugees through her foundation and incorporated multiple refugee stories within the novel.
- She has a really sharp sense of humor, from suggesting that a vegan magic brownie every once in a while is a great idea to joking about how everyone has thought of what their plan would be to dispose of a dead body.
- The idea from In the Midst of Winter is based on an experience she had while trapped in a snow storm as a young woman with 2 guys she had just met in a rental car they decided to share. They ended up trading life stories.
- She often finds that when she’s writing a book, the main character or romantic lead disappoints her in some way by page 100 or so, and she typically decides to kill them off to get rid of them.
- She never has the plot of her novels planned ahead of time but just starts writing and finds out as she goes along where the story is going. When she wrote a crime novel called Ripper, she realized when almost at the end of the novel that she still had no idea who the murder was, so she had to go back to see if she could figure it out.
- Her advice for aspiring novelists is to write a bad novel so as to free themselves of the pressure. This way they’ll know that they don’t need to be perfect.
- Her favorite novel to write was The House of the Spirits because there was a freshness and innocence to it since it was her first time writing a novel. She mentioned, though, that some members of her family didn’t speak to her for years afterwards because it was based on them.
In The Midst Of Winter
Publication Date: October 31st 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Length in hardcover: 352 pages
Goodreads rating: 3.8
Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. 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.
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).
The premise. It may be that I was particularly taken with the idea that the premise of the novel was based on an actual episode in Allende’s past. Or it may be that I just love winter and even a good snow storm once in a while. I just found the concept of three very dissimilar characters becoming trapped together (in more ways than one) during a snowstorm really intriguing. It’s an ideal setup for the characters to tell each other (and the readers) their stories, as well as and opportunity for them to get into several entertaining capers. One of these capers may or may not involve a murder, but don’t worry – Allende herself assured that this is NOT a thriller.
The character backstories. Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are three very different people who find themselves thrown together in unexpected circumstances. Hilarity definitely ensues as each adapts to the quirks of the other, especially Richard to Lucia’s fieriness and wit. What I most loved about the characters, though, was learning about their pasts through regressions in the plot of the novel. In particular, Evelyn’s story was incredibly moving and harrowing as well as highly topical as an all too realistic example of the despair which leads people to leave their home country as refugees. Lucia’s story was similar in its heaviness and sadness, somewhat mirroring Allende’s own story living in exile from Chile after the 1970s coup.
The theme of rebirth and second chances. Allende spoke at length during the event I attended about times in her life when she felt she was in a form of hibernation, waiting to believe in life or love again. The snowstorm setting of this novel acts as a foil for the internal winters each character is experiencing to different degrees, whether by hiding from love, experiencing physical insecurity after an illness or living in near slavery. Allende clearly believes that when life seems most difficult, with time it’s still possible to make a new start. The stories she weaves for her characters throughout this novel epitomize the essence of that ethos. The inescapable events that draw Richard, Lucia and Evelyn into their orbit bring out their dormant strengths and provide the needed catalyst for each of them to change their lives.
A bit cheesy in parts. There were parts of this book that were extremely sad and even at times involved graphic violence, but the majority was a relatively straightforward entertaining read about the adventure Allende’s three protagonists face. I appreciated that Allende counterbalanced the darker chapters with lighter and more humorous ones, but at times her writing almost seemed romance novel like and definitely cheesy in the repartee between two of the main characters. I also felt that the ending of the novel was too tidy and simplistic considering some of the complexity of the plot. She could have further explored the potential consequences of some of her primary and secondary characters’ actions to make it a more realistic ending.
Dark and profound when dealing with the past – adventurous and entertaining when dealing with the present, this novel’s effortless combination of lightness and depth make for a satisfying quick read that will make you think about new beginnings.
Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of magical realism, is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful. Allende has been called the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author. In 2004, Allende was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010, she received Chile’s National Literature Prize. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Allende’s novels are often based upon her personal experience and historical events and pay homage to the lives of women, while weaving together elements of myth and realism. She has lectured and toured many American colleges to teach literature. Fluent in English as a second language, Allende was granted United States citizenship in 1993, having lived in California with her American husband since 1989. (from Wikipedia)
Have you read In The Midst Of Winter or any of Isabel Allende’s many other novels? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for historical fiction novels The Last Days Of Night by Graham Moore and The Rules Of Magic by Alice Hoffman, contemporary novel The Best Kind Of People by Zoe Whittall, political memoir What Happened by Hillary Clinton and audiobook of contemporary fiction title Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository. Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for providing a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.