Likely Stories: In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Mar 21, 2019

Chilling story of the horror resulting from the migration of refugees from South America.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Isabelle Allende is a Chilean writer whose novels often slip over into magic realism.  Her most noted work is The House of Spirits, my favorite with The Japanese Lover a close second.  Her latest novel, In the Midst of Winter, spins a tale so relevant today.  It is the story of South American refugees streaming north for a better life in the United States.  This novel might disturb some readers and break the hearts of many, many more.

The story revolves around three people: Richard Bowmaster, Lucia Maraz, and Evelyn Ortega.  Richard is a college professor, who has recruited Lucia from Chile to teach a class in his department.  On a snowy day, Richard is driving home, when his car rear ends another car, driven by Evelyn.  The damage is slight.  Late that night, the doorbell rings.  Evelyn is at the door, and she is frantic with fear.  She is from Guatemala.  Her employer is a dangerous and frightening person named Frank Leroy.  He happens to be out of town when Evelyn borrows his Lexus without permission. 

Isabelle writes, “Lucia Maraz was cursing the cold in her Prospect Heights basement apartment, a cement-and-brick cave with a mountain of snow blocking the doorway.  Blessed with the stoic character of her people, accustomed as they are to earthquakes, floods, occasional tsunamis, and political cataclysms, she grew worried if no disaster occurred within a given length of time” (1-2).  Allende continues, “Whenever Richard reached home in the evening, […] he first attended to the four cats.  They were not exactly affectionate and had been adopted from the Humane Society to solve his mouse problem.  He had taken this step as a logical measure, devoid of any sentimentality, and yet the felines became his inseparable companions” (15).  Richard took meticulous care of the cats.  After feeding them, he ate and then played the piano “as a discipline.”  When the doorbell rang, Richard was unable to get anything from Evelyn, and his attempt to communicate in Spanish was of little use.  He then called Lucia, for help.  He learned some of her family members had been executed by MS-13.

The remainder of the novel involves the web that entangles the lives of these three people.  They spend the night sharing stories of their lives.  Isabelle continues her story.  “The Ortegas were not the only ones without a father or mother: two-thirds of the children in their school were in the same situation.  In the past it had only been the men who emigrated in search of work, but in recent years the women had been leaving as well.  Few of the village children finished school: the boys left to look for work or ended up in gangs or on drugs, while the girls got pregnant, moved away for work, or were recruited as prostitutes” (40).

Isabelle Allende’s latest novel, In the Midst of Winter, lays out the reality of the immigration problem in the U.S. today.  As the friends try and help Evelyn, the reality of migration comes to the forefront of the problems America faces today.  Isabelle’s story will put a different perspective on this problem.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!