Book Review

In the Midst of Winter


Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer whose work I’ve always admired. Most recently, I read “The Japanese Lover,” and given the quiet, warm, cohesive feeling it gave me, was really looking forward to reading “In The Midst of Winter,” well, in the midst of winter.

This one didn’t do it for me like “The Japanese Lover” did. In theory, it should have. The ingredients are all there. There are three major characters in “In the Midst of Winter. Two are immigrants, one from Guatemala, one from Chile, and Allende tells their stories in heart-wrenching detail. Goddaughter of former Chilean president, Salvadore Allende, she clearly knows of what she speaks. That part fascinated me. And each of these two characters’ relationships with the third character, a rather neurotic professor at NYU, come together cleverly.

My problem was with the last third of the book, when description of third-world country life falls aside and plot takes over. At this point, my credulity was strained.

There are just too many holes, starting – for this cat lover (i.e., me) – with a pet cat that is accidentally poisoned; his owner is initially panicked, then just seems to forget about the cat completely. The emotions fail here. Same with the handicapped boy for whom one of the characters is the caretaker; she cares deeply about him one day and barely thinks about him the next. As for larger pivotal twists, much of the last third of the book consists of the main characters covering up a crime in a manner than any modern law enforcement officer would sniff out in a heartbeat. Likewise, a woman goes missing – and stays missing, i.e., dead – without much notice. Two cars are involved in a trek that should have invoked suspicion but does not. The book’s ending involves a too-rapid sum-up of events. The stilted love story is too chatty, too out of nowhere, simply not complete. That’s it. This book felt incomplete.

Even the title. Its meaning isn’t terribly deep. Yet despite prominent display at the book’s opening of the quote from which it comes, Allende felt a need to have one of her characters credit it at the end. That was when I wondered if, given that this book was originally written in Spanish, something was lost in translation.

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