In an interview, Isabel Allende said that she wrote ‘In the Midst of Winter’ in 2016 just when she was coming out of a divorce after 28 years of marriage and her agent, three close friends, and dog had all died. It was during these trying times that she came upon a quote by Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer. For the summer that we all have inside to manifest we need to open the heart and take risks.” And that’s what the book is about: Three traumatized people trapped in a snowstorm in Brooklyn, New York facing a life-and-death situation. By choosing to support one another and being kind, they ultimately discover the invincible summers that lie within them.The book opens with a minor car collision, between 60-year old scholar Richard Bowmaster and Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented Guatemalan refugee. This incident sets into motion a chain of events which forces the two and 62-year-old Lucia Maraz, a visiting professor at NYU, who is also Bowmaster’s coworker and tenant, to deal with a situation that, to begin with, is not their problem, and which seems to be spiraling out of control by the minute. While ‘In the Midst of Winter’ mostly focuses on Richard, Lucia, and Evelyn’s seemingly ordinary lives, mystery and intrigue simultaneously weave their way into the story, making what would otherwise have been a slow narrative into a gripping can’t-stop-till-I-know-what-happens-next read.
Lucia and Evelyn sometimes feel like extensions of Allende’s personal history as the author has said, time and again, that, for much of her life, she’s felt like a foreigner. And it seems here, through them, Allende is taking the liberty to make her readers understand what the immigrant experience is like. Though there can be no better time to tell immigrants’ stories, you sometimes wish the writing were a little less flowery, allowing you to focus on the character’s lives instead of getting stuck in the imageries it manages to conjure.
Also, ‘In the Midst of Winter’ feels a little awkward because something doesn’t seem right and the ending too is a bit off. But, all in all, Allende deserves to be read because her stories get you thinking about the many things you tend to take for granted in life.