Her new novel, In the Midst of Winter, also deals with Central and South American political history, but eschews the magical realism in favor of a straight-forward realistic tale of three characters’ intersecting lives.
Lucia is an academic from Chile, spending a year as a visiting professor at NYU. She’s living in Brooklyn in the basement apartment of the NYU department chair’s home. Richard and Lucia are both in their 60s.
In a blizzard, Richard slides into a Lexus at a nearby intersection, and the driver of the Lexus doesn’t appear to speak English, then freaks out and drives away. Richard throws his card in her window so she can contact him about the insurance. The driver of the Lexus is Evelyn, a young, undocumented resident from Guatemala.
When she rings Richard’s doorbell later that evening, and Richard can’t understand what she’s saying, he gets Lucia to come up to help translate and a series of events begins to unfold.
There’s a mystery element to their story in the present, so I won’t go into any more detail, but a great deal of the novel is the stories of their earlier lives that they tell each other. Each story is filled with pain, tragedy, loss, and emptiness.
I realize that description makes the book sound extraordinarily bleak, but somehow it isn’t. The act of telling their stories as they get to know each other rescues each of them in some way.
I admit I don’t know much about the political history of the regions they come from, and so a little of that element is lost for me, although it’s not really vital that we know those details. Think corruption, violence, more corruption, more violence, and we pretty much have the context.
In the end, it’s a satisfying read. The digressions into their pasts don’t really derail the essential nature of their current predicament, and it ties together satisfyingly in the end.
Literary fun fact: every novel Allende has written in the past thirty years has been started on January 8th. Don’t know why, but I found that fascinating.