If you have come here looking for a quintessential book review you will be disappointed. I don’t do those, honestly I can’t do those. I get too emotionally invested in a book to ever objectively comment upon one. I can tell you which books I liked best and which books betrayed me like one of those men who promise a lot of glitz but have no sparkle of their own.
Anyway, this is about a book I read recently by Isabel Allende, who’s an expert story-teller and happens to be one of my favorites. I read her ‘In The Midst of Winter’ through February and was highly disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, her female characters continue to be real and with a depth that is usually absent from male narratives. These are strong women who are neither afraid of their sensitivity nor of their sexuality. What lacks in the novel, ‘In the Midst of Winter’, is not characters that could cruise the story on their shoulders but the story itself. It’s a weak story that revolves around three people who have had their fair share of misfortunes in life and they are all carrying the burden of it. The decisions they make during the course of the story is often influenced by what they have experienced in their lives.
With their strong characters, it should be easy to love them or at least like them. But it isn’t so. The characters feel as much a misfit as a mariachi band would be in an Indian wedding.
There are three characters in the novel – Richard Bowmaster, Lucia Maraz, and Evelyn Ortega. Lucia and Evelyn are immigrants in the country, and Richard is living a borrowed existence in his head. While reading the portions about Richard I felt uncomfortable, but it was not the discomfort at his trials but discomfort at the pity he shows himself. Perhaps, I have come to expect more from Allende’s characters.
The events all three protagonists go through are harsh, terrible and often feel surreal, like a black-and-white movie that you know is a movie. While I sympathized with the characters, I could never really bring myself to identify with any of them. It wasn’t entirely because of the severity of their situation but because the characters felt removed from reality, and no it wasn’t magical realism in any way.
However, I would still recommend this book to anyone who wishes to read a book by a woman author. Isabel Allende, you can feel it while reading, puts hard work into her characters. Her characters feel like people who may be living in some part of the world and that is true for this novel too. They, however, look ill at ease with where they are.
The novel can also be a good entry point for people who wish to read something fictional about people in South America and immigrants. Perhaps my inability to connect with any of the characters in the novel is because of my lack of understanding of the immigrant situation in US. In near future I hope to pick the book back up and be wiser to understand the nuances of an immigrant’s life. Till then off to another book.
Image is the cover of the book
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