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In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

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.

Title: In the Midst of Winter
Author: Isabel Allende
Publish Date: October 31st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: 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.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

I usually try to read anything that Isabel Allende writes because I’ve enjoyed all of her books.  I don’t think this particular book is her strongest.  I enjoyed the characters and the different backgrounds they reveal as the book progresses.  The choices they make to deal with what has happened in their current situation seemed a bit unrealistic.

I also didn’t become as attached to the characters as I have in Allende’s previous works.  I thought the backstories were more interesting than the present day circumstances, and the slow reveal as the characters got to know each other was well done.  I particularly liked the part in which Lucia recognizes that, through the sharing of their stories, what “a strange healing power words had… how important it was to share one’s pain and discover that others, too, had their fair share of it, that lives are often alike and feelings similar.”

I would give this book 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything else by Isabel Allende, including her young adult fiction trilogy, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, or The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.


The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I’m only going to give this book a 3 because I have read much of Isabel Allende’s work and she can do much better.

Japanese LoverTitle:  The Japanese Lover
Author:  Isabel Allende
Publish Date:  November 3, 2015
Genre:  Fiction
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionIn 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover explores questions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world of unceasing change.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

The audio version of this book was okay, but I think there was something missing. It felt as though the chapter breaks or perhaps the text in a print version would have lent itself to the back and forth of the time frame of the story a bit better than what I listened to. The story of Alma and how she came to be at the Lark House was posed as a mystery with some sort of a “reveal” being built up to. I didn’t feel the author did that particularly well.

I did enjoy a different perspective of the Jewish and the Japanese experience during WWII and the struggles each of the characters went through in order to survive and be true to themselves. I really felt that Alma was a three-dimensional character that I would have liked to have known and I totally want to grow old at a place like Lark House. Having Alma admit that she wasn’t strong enough to leave her privileged life in order to follow her heart and be with her Japanese love was just good writing.

badge3v4There was so much build up to the caregiver, Irina’s, background, that I felt disappointed with how quickly she was able to open up and accept Seth as her future husband. I also felt there wasn’t enough build up to the current relationship with Alma and her Japanese Lover even though that’s the title of the book. It fell a little flat and I wasn’t as emotionally drawn-in as I would have liked.

Other reviews…

If you like this book…

…you might try House of Spirit by Isabel Allende, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, or The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.

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