In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende (2017)

in the midst of winter

Lucia Maraz, a Chilean woman and visiting scholar, and Richard Bowmaster, Lucia’s American colleague at NYU and her landlord, live together in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Despite the fact that both Lucia and Richard are experts on South American politics,  their relationship is strictly professional. Both Richard and Lucia are approaching their mid-sixties and both feel that they have reached a cross-roads in their lives. Lucia is recovering from a second bout of breast cancer and has moved to America wanting to live her life with verve and adventure. Richard is punishing himself for the horrific end to his marriage twenty years prior and has decided that, despite crippling loneliness, it is best to protect his heart and finish his life alone; a decision that has meant Lucia’s attempts to befriend Richard have all failed.

That is, until a blizzard strikes New York City trapping the two in the house they share and setting into motion a bizarre series of events that will ask the two to bridge the gap between them to help others. On an errand, Richard is involved in an car accident with a young woman and, even though the crash is not too serious, the woman is clearly terrified. In rapid Spanish, she attempts to tell Richard about her predicament but he is unable to follow her story: all he can make out is she is driving her employer’s car without permission. In desperation, Richard gives the young lady his home address and asks her to come see him after the storm with promises that he will help her explain the crash to her employer.

Evelyn Ortega knows as soon as she is hit by Richard Bowmaster that she cannot return to her employer’s home. With no other options given the horrendous conditions of the blizzard, she does the only thing she can think of: she goes to Richard’s home. Richard is shocked to find the young woman on his doorstep just an hour later, speaking Spanish and insisting on coming inside. Feeling as though he has no other options, he begs his housemate Lucia to help translate.

What transpires next will change the lives of all three people forever. Evelyn tells the two a story that began more than twenty years ago. From the time of her birth in a small Guatemalan village, Evelyn’s life was one of endless hard work. She tells the others of horrific acts of violence, wars, abuse, hunger, and about the terror that consumed her entire childhood; and in doing so paints of picture of Guatemala in the early twenty-first century.  Her story is one of survival; survival only made possible by Evelyn’s harrowing immigration to the US and her job working illegally for a man in New York who would not hesitate to punish her harshly for “borrowing” his car.

Snowbound in the house and unable to calm Evelyn  — who is terrified her boss will track her down and fire her, deport her, or possibly even kill her — Lucia tells the young woman and Richard about her own childhood in post-WW2 Chile and her own struggles with political upheaval, violence, and fear over the following decades.

Finally Richard shares his family’s story; beginning with his father’s escape from the Nazi’s; through his years married to a Brazilian woman and living in South America; to present day. His story also highlights the enormous changes — political and social — that have swept over South American in since the middle of the twentieth century.

As they tell their stories, the three begin to bond. Evelyn begins to trust that these people will help her escape her situation in New York. Lucia and Richard begin to grow closer to one another, their loneliness lessening with each word shared. By helping Evelyn, the other two begin to see a new purpose for their lives and a new path forward together.

 

 

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