My Sunday Book Review on Isabel Allende’s In The Midst of Winter is a little differently rated than most of the books I share on my reviews because I could only give it 3 1/2 stars. At over 350 pages, I kept waiting for something exciting to happen but I found the plot fell flat and was scattered and disappointing – too much character backstory and not enough plot.
New York Times and worldwide bestselling author Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.
An instant New York Times bestseller, In the Midst of Winter is about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that offers “a timely message about immigration and the meaning of home” (People).
During the biggest Brooklyn snowstorm in living memory, Richard Bowmaster, a lonely university professor in his sixties, hits the car of Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, and what at first seems an inconvenience takes a more serious turn when Evelyn comes to his house, seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant, Lucia Maraz, a fellow academic from Chile, for her advice.
As these three lives intertwine, each will discover truths about how they have been shaped by the tragedies they witnessed, and Richard and Lucia will find unexpected, long overdue love. Allende returns here to themes that have propelled some of her finest work: political injustice, the art of survival, and the essential nature of—and our need for—love.
My 3 1/2 Star Review:
As a fan of Allende’s writing, I found this book a bit disappointing. I also found the blurb to be a bit misleading. Yes, the story goes into the past of each of the three main characters to demonstrate what they experienced in their lives, helping to shape their characters, but I found their backstories could have been stories for a book in themselves and didn’t quite mesh with the actual story going on involving these characters. It’s by far not a ‘sweeping novel’. Where the blurb speaks of political injustice, that pertains more to Evelyn’s and Lucia’s lives in the past before coming to America, but those facts aren’t what the story is about, just about what shapes their characters. I think the story juts off course throughout the book.
The story begins with Lucia an academic colleague of Richard’s who is originally from Chile and rents a basement apartment from Richard while he lives upstairs. Richard comes off as a lonely, grumpy guy who at first isn’t very friendly toward Lucia until he gets into a car accident on a blizzardy day, banging into Evelyn, an undocumented young woman from Guatamala who worked as a nanny for a mobster, his wife Cheryl and their handicapped child. Evelyn felt compelled to run to the store despite the storm to get diapers for the young boy, while Cheryl slept and the husband was out of town, so she took the mobster’s car for the short run then Richard banged into her. And this is where the intended story plot was to grow from when they discovered a dead body in the trunk.
The story continues on with Richard asking Lucia for help to take in Evelyn because she was too scared to go back home. This book didn’t turn into a murder mystery investigation as it suggested it should, rather a mission to get rid of the body and help Evelyn in doing so, and in doing so we’re taken into the history of each character, back and forth into the present. The romance that finally happened near the end of the book between Lucia and Richard felt awkward, and the ending left no impact. This wasn’t Allende’s finest work by far, IMHO.