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Isabel Allende Finds a Glimpse of Sun In the Midst of Winter

Posted on 27th October 2017 by Martha Greengrass

A bold, experimental voice in fiction since the 1980’s, award-winning Chilean author Isabel Allende has always drawn strength and courage, even in the darkest moments, from what she calls her own “personal summer". Here, as she presents her latest novel In the Midst of Winter, Allende discusses how finding love in the winter of her own life inspired her return to fiction.

'In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer' - Albert Camus

This quote from Albert Camus was very relevant to my life at the moment when I began the novel. I was on my own, separated from my husband, and at an age when romantic desire seems ridiculous. It coincided with the death of my beloved agent, two very close friends, and my dog Olivia; moving houses; my parents’ becoming really old and frail; the fact that my grandchildren were a long way away; and being over seventy. I felt I was in the winter of my life, and yet I was not filled with panic because, as ever, writing saved me. I have always had an ‘invincible summer’ inside me. In some tragic circumstances, like the military coup in Chile that drove me into exile, or the death of my daughter Paula, which broke my heart, this has clouded over, but the sun always comes out again. I have learnt to trust my personal summer. 

This is the story of three unlikely characters who find themselves trapped in a blizzard in Brooklyn in 2016. One of them is a young woman, a Guatemalan undocumented immigrant, who is facing a life and death situation. The other two, a female Chilean journalist and a professor at New York University, decide to help her. In the United States and Europe the question of immigration and refugees is seen more as a political problem than a humanitarian crisis. The reasons behind this phenomenon have been lost sight of.  People don’t leave their family, home, country, language and customs because they want to: they do it to escape war, crime, and misery. It is easy for those who have never experienced this tragedy to convert refugees into scapegoats and reject them.  I hope readers, in getting to know my character Evelyn Ortega, will look sympathetically on all those who, like her, are desperately seeking shelter. As for Lucía Maraz, the Chilean protagonist, I confess that there is something of my own nature in her. Like Lucia, I am optimistic and can't resist an adventure. 

Deep down I have always believed in the possibility of love at any age. I had already explored this topic in The Japanese Lover, where the protagonists are over eighty. In the Midst of Winter presents a couple in their sixties. Since writing can sometimes be prophetic, shortly before I finished the novel I happened to find romantic and passionate love of the sort I described in the book. At the age of 74, I can love with all the enthusiasm of adolescence, and at the same time be filled with a feeling of immense gratitude. At this age one is starting to lose almost everything in life – health, independence, work – which is why I am so grateful for this unexpected gift of another love. I hope it is the last, and that it continues until the end, always sun-filled, always summer. I’m going to guard it like a treasure. 

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