New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) 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. 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.
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, Of Love and Shadows, and Paula. Her latest novel is The Japanese Lover. Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages and have sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. She lives in California. Her website is IsabelAllende.com.
Hometown:San Rafael, California
Date of Birth:August 2, 1942
Place of Birth:Lima, Peru
A blizzard in New York City brings together three strikingly different people, each burdened with a difficult past. Lucia, an aging Chilean writer who has survived political exile, disease, and betrayal, is marooned with her dog in a basement apartment in Brooklyn. Richard, an academic chairman at NYU, is a broken man haunted by guilt for his fatal failures as a husband and father. And Evelyn, a brave young Guatemalan woman, is an undocumented home health aide who fled her native country due to gang violence, which claimed the lives of her two brothers and very nearly destroyed her own.
Over the course of several days, these three—each a misfit in a different way—are forced by circumstances into a rare level of intimacy. As the result of a shocking crime, they depart on a precarious epic journey that reveals their painful inner demons and ultimately enables them to forge a tentative peace with their pasts.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Each of the three main characters—Lucia, Evelyn, and Richard—experiences some kind of isolation in their present life. The book begins with Lucia physically isolated in her apartment during a snowstorm. In what other ways is she isolated? How is her isolation different from Evelyn’s? And from Richard’s?
2. Evelyn comes to the United States as a refugee fleeing violence. Compare her experience entering the country with that of other immigrants you know of or have read about. Why did they leave their native countries, and what were their first experiences as immigrants? Did you find any aspects of Evelyn’s journey surprising? It is said that the United States is a country of immigrants, and that immigrants made this country great. Do you agree? Why or why not? Did this book change the way you think about immigrants? If so, how?
3. Many immigrants in the United States currently work in caretaker jobs: as nannies taking care of small children, or as home health aides caring for the sick, elderly, or dying. Do you know of any immigrants in these kinds of jobs? Do they encounter any difficulties similar to Evelyn’s? How do Frankie’s parents treat Evelyn? Why does she seem “invisible“ to Frankie’s father?
4. Evelyn‘s relationship with Frankie is very special, and reveals a lot about her character. Why is she so successful at caring for him? In what ways does she expand his horizons? Do you know of someone who works with people who are physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged? Do they share any of Evelyn‘s character traits?
5. When Evelyn leaves her native village, she tells her grandmother Concepcion, “Just as I am going, Grandma, so I will return.” Compare Evelyn’s relationship with her grandmother to her relationship with her mother, Miriam. What positive things has each of them given to Evelyn?
6. Lucia loses her brother during the political turmoil in Chile during the early 1970s and is forced to flee the country, eventually becoming an exile in Canada. What qualities does she have that help her face her life as an exile? Do you know of anyone who is an exile? What special difficulties do they share? How do the challenges of Lucia’s exile compare with Evelyn’s challenges as a refugee?
7. People and animals share their lives. Compare the companionship between Richard and the four cats and between Lucia and Marcelo. How do their interactions reflect each of their personalities?
8. Richard and his wife, Anita, go through the devastating experience of losing their baby son. How do their reactions to this tragedy differ? And how do these differences ultimately determine the fate of Bibi and of their marriage?
9. Anita’s family has always been very tight-knit, giving her a sense of well-being and support. How does this compare with Richard’s upbringing? He comes to resent Anita‘s family after the tragedy. Why do you think this is so? Is he fair in resenting their efforts?
10. When Richard arrives in New York with Anita, and his friend Horacio sees the state she is in, he says to Richard, “Make sure you don’t let her down, brother.” In what ways does Richard end up letting Anita down? Why do you think he does? How does the fate of Anita and his children continue to shape his life long after their deaths?
11. There is often a conflict between “the letter of the law,“ which refers to a literal interpretation of the words, and “the spirit of the law,“ which refers to the intention behind the law. At the end of the book, Lucia tells Richard, “The law is cruel and justice is blind. Kathryn Brown helped us tilt the balance slightly in favor of natural justice, because we were protecting Evelyn, and now we have to do the same for Cheryl.” Do you agree with Lucia’s decision? Why or why not? If you were in a situation similar to Lucia’s, how do you think you would handle it?
12. Each of the main characters is a stranger to the people around her/him. In what way is Evelyn a stranger to the family she works for? Lucia is of course a foreigner in New York, but even as a colleague of Richard’s at NYU she remains a stranger to him, just as he is to her. Why do you think that is? In what ways do they misinterpret each other? To what extent do Evelyn, Lucia, and Richard each become less of a stranger by the end of the book?
13. Our protagonists each deal with trauma in their own way: Lucia with an open heart and taking risks; Evelyn by hiding, being silent, and trying to make herself invisible; and Richard by closing down and protecting himself. They have all experienced events that could have utterly destroyed them. Identify what these are for each character and compare how they each handled those events. In what ways did they succeeded in overcoming the trauma of their past? In what ways do they still carry it with them?
14. Lucia and Richard find love at a mature age. At first, they believed they were too old to find love, before realizing that they came together at exactly the right time. Is there an age limit for certain life experiences like falling in love? How has the process and concept of aging changed today when compared to the previous generation? Consider how the timeline has shifted for younger generations with regards to traditional milestones of earning a higher degree, building a career, getting married, owning a home, and starting a family, etc.
15. “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.” Why do you think Isabel Allende chose to include this quote from Albert Camus in the book’s epigraph, title, and final scene? Most of the story literally takes place during the winter. But on the symbolic level, Evelyn, Lucia, and Richard are all experiencing a winter of the spirit. What does that consist of, for each of them? And what do you think the “invincible summer” is that each one finds within?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Research the gang that destroyed Evelyn’s family, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), which began in California, and has been recently in the news. The following sources provide some useful information on the gang’s origins and practices.
Have your group discuss the origins of this gang, and what steps can be taken to lessen its power.
2. Many films have explored the challenges faced by immigrants. Among them are The Immigrant, The Visitor, Sin Nombre, and El Norte. Stream one of these films with your reading group, and discuss how the issues faced by Evelyn compare with the issues faced by the characters in the films.
3. Have your group read two of Isabel Allende’s other novels, The House of the Spirits and The Japanese Lover. Both of these novels deal with subjects that are related to In the Midst of Winter. What similar themes do you notice in each of these novels that correspond to the themes of In the Midst of Winter? How does reading The House of the Spirits enhance your understanding of people like Lucia and what their families experienced during and after the military coup in Chile? In what ways does the experience of Ichimei Fukada—the Japanese gardener’s son in The Japanese Lover, who is forced with his family into an internment camp in a desert area of Utah during World War II—compare to the experience of modern-day immigrants and refugees like Evelyn, and the discrimination that they face?
4. In 2014, Isabel Allende gave a TED talk in which she discussed living passionately no matter what your age: ted.com/talks/isabel_allende_tells_tales_of_passion. Watch this TED talk with your group, and discuss which aspects of Allende’s perspective on aging are reflected in the vibrant character of Lucia.
5. To learn more about Isabel Allende, read reviews of In the Midst of Winter, learn about her other titles, and find her on tour, become a fan at her Simon & Schuster author page simonandschuster.com/authors/Isabel-Allende/1723104, and visit her website isabelallende.com.
"The Japanese Lover is animated by the same lush spirit that has sold 65 million copies of her books around the world... a novel that’s a pleasure to recommend.""Poignant, powerful ...a timeless world without 'tomorrow or yesterday.'""[A] fairy tale of a novel...As in all of Allende's fiction, we find a large, colorful cast of characters...""Monumental...A multi-generational epic of fate, war, and enduring love.""Allende's engrossing narrative spans 70 years of tumultuous world history, but the powerful message you'll take away is that love all kinds of love will take root and endure under the most harrowing conditions.""The latest from the writer who's been called Gabriel Garcia Marquez's successor. It's a love story that covers a lot of ground, from Nazi-occupied Poland to present-day San Francisco. You won’t want to put it down.""Allende has a rare and precious gift for simultaneously challenging and entrancing readers by dramatizing with startling intimacy such dire situations as the desperation behind illegal immigration and domestic violence, then reveling, a page later, in spiritual visions or mischievous sexiness or heroic levity.""Themes of lasting passion, friendship, reflections in old age, and how people react to challenging circumstances all feature in Allende’s newest saga, which moves from modern San Francisco back to the traumatic WWII years. As always, her lively storytelling pulls readers into her characters’ lives immediately… the story has many heart felt moments, and readers will be lining up for it."“With her engaging new novel, “The Japanese Lover,” Allende brings us a tale at once global and rooted deeply in Bay Area history, sweeping through time and across continents to explore the inner lives of two very different women in contemporary California.”"[Allende] continues to beguile readers with themes of social justice and love, tied together with a bit of magical realism. In this vivid and fast-paced work of fiction, [she] weaves a suspenseful love story, rendering [its] central trio with generosity, spirit, and passion."11/01/2017
Chilean Lucia Maraz, 61, is a visiting professor at New York University, living half-frozen in the chilly basement apartment owned by her boss Richard Bowmaster, the son of Holocaust survivors. For Richard, who has barely survived a triad of horrible family tragedies, sobriety is one fear-filled day at a time. During a three-day blizzard at the beginning of 2016, Richard accidentally rear-ends the car driven without permission by Evelyn Ortega, a young, undocumented nanny who fled Guatemala after an unspeakable attack. The damage exposes a dead body in the trunk. Wanting to help Evelyn, Richard enlists Lucia's help. The three concoct a mad road trip to an isolated cabin where they plan to dispose of the body, using the bitter cold and snow as cover. In internationally renowned author Allende's latest novel (after The Japanese Lover), three wounded souls, thrown together by a literal and metaphorical collision of events, embark on a journey of self-discovery, emerging love, and the power of learning to trust. VERDICT Allende puts a human face on the realities of illegal immigration, broken hearts, courage, and healing with her signature heart. [See Prepub Alert, 5/15/17.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI06/01/2017
In this latest from supreme humanist Allende, 60-year-old human rights scholar Richard Bowmaster feels he's hit the end of the road—and one snow-blown Brooklyn night really does hit the car of Evelyn Ortega. Young, undocumented Guatemalan Evelyn later appears at his house seeking help, which sends him scurrying to his tenant, Chilean lecturer Lucia Maraz, for advice.2017-08-06
Thrown together by a Brooklyn blizzard, two NYU professors and a Guatemalan nanny find themselves with a body to dispose of. "Blessed with the stoic character of her people, accustomed as they are to earthquakes, floods, occasional tsunamis, and political cataclysm," 61 year-old Chilean academic Lucia Maraz is nonetheless a bit freaked out by a snowstorm so severe that it's reported on television "in the solemn tone usually reserved for news about terrorism in far-off countries." Her landlord and boss, the tightly wound Richard Bowmaster, lives right upstairs with his four cats, but he rebuffs her offer of soup and company. Too bad: she might have a crush on him. Enter Evelyn Ortega, a diminutive young woman from Guatemala Richard meets when he skids into her Lexus on the iced-over streets. Evelyn's hysterical reaction to the fender bender seems crazily out of proportion when she shows up on his doorstep that night, and he has Lucia come up to help him understand why she's so upset. The Lexus, it turns out, belongs to her volatile, violent employer…and there's a corpse in the now-unlatchable trunk. Once Lucia gradually pieces together Evelyn's story—she was smuggled north by a coyote after barely surviving gang violence that killed both of her siblings—the two professors decide to help her, and the plan they come up with is straight out of a telenovela. While that's getting underway, Allende (The Japanese Lover, 2015, etc.) fills in the dark and complicated histories of Richard and Lucia, who also have suffered defining losses. The horrors of Evelyn's past have left her all but mute; Richard is a complete nervous wreck; Lucia fears there is no greater love coming her way than that of her Chihuahua, Marcelo. This winter's tale has something to melt each frozen heart."The contrast of a modern-day mystery with the characters' magical worlds of South American culture, makes In the Midst of Winter an absorbing, page-turning adventure.""A timely message about immigration and the meaning of home.""Isabel Allende brings her poetic and compassionate eye to In the Midst of Winter, [which] is being compared with her masterpiece The House of the Spirits."
"Allende has a rare and precious gift for simultaneously challenging and entrancing readers by dramatizing with startling intimacy such dire situations as the desperation behind illegal immigration and domestic violence, then reveling, a page later, in spiritual visions or mischievous sexiness or heroic levity.""It’s when revealing the characters’ harrowing past lives in other countries that the generous and unflagging energy that characterized Allende’s debut, The House of the Spirits, can most clearly be felt.""[Allende] continues to beguile readers with themes of social justice and love, tied together with a bit of magical realism. In this vivid and fast-paced work of fiction, [she] weaves a suspenseful love story, rendering [its] central trio with generosity, spirit, and passion.""The lesson is clear in both book and life—passion is possible. So is survival and change and making a difference in the world, in Isabel Allende’s grand and inimitable style."“[In the Midst of Winter] forthrightly embraces both harsh realities and whimsy, pleasure and pain in this buoyant adventure, a heartfelt story of resilience and respect that seems just the thing to help us through these darkest of days in our land of exiles.”"Allende's latest tale is heartfelt and raw... The interactions between the characters is well thought out and deep. Readers will come to love them and experience the heartbreak and joy both of their past, present, and future."
"Allende uses imagination to help readers gain a better understanding of what the immigrant experience is really like for many people in this country.""A syntactically beautiful story with the twists and turns of a telenovela and warmth at its center.""Devotees of Allende’s forays into magical realism (The House of Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna) will find the universe she creates here—an account of earthly lives lived in an earthly setting—more madcap and macabre.""Isabel Allende’s masterful blend of history, suspense, and rising passion makes for yet another riveting novel."