Noted Chilean author Isabel Allende talks her latest book, natural justice and risk-taking


Courtesy of Lesekreis

Isabel Allende promotes her new book at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. The novel, “In the Midst of Winter,” was released in October and ranked as No. 7 on the Washington Post’s bestseller list, as of last week.

With her most recent novel, “In the Midst of Winter,” released in English on Oct. 31, Chilean author Isabel Allende surpassed 22 published works. Now 75 years-old, Allende began her prolific writing career at the age of 40 with the longtime classic, “The House of the Spirits.”

On Friday, Nov. 17, Allende visited New Orleans’s Academy of the Sacred Heart for a live Q&A with journalist Anne Giselson, attracting a sizable audience of both English and Spanish speakers.

“In the Midst of Winter” is a story about an unlikely trio of characters who are drawn together in the events following a car crash caused by a Brooklyn snowstorm.

This trio consists of two 60-year-old scholars, Richard and Lucía, and a young Guatemalan refugee named Evelyn, who makes the arduous journey to the United States after her hometown is taken over by gangs Allende modeled after MS-13, one of the most extensive international crime organizations.

“Unfortunately … the character of Evelyn is real,” Allende said. “There is a point in the book when an immigration officer hears her story, and he says, ‘Well, they will have to tell this to the judge,’ and all judges have heard this before. Some believe it, and some don’t. Well, why have they heard it before? Because its a common story, not because it’s a made-up story.”

In many of her stories, Allende writes about a concept she calls “natural justice,” an inevitable, community-driven force that deals more fairly than any country’s official legal system, an entity Allende admitted she doesn’t believe in.

“Usually the people who fill up the prisons here in this country and everywhere else are the people who are not sheltered by the big umbrella of the establishment, and so the system is very unfair,” she said. “The idea of justice is really important for me, and I have written stories … about justice, and I believe that there is a balance in the world – that if we do evil, sooner or later we pay.”

While, in her most recent novel, natural justice does eventually come into play, initially, all three protagonists are in their own “emotional winter,” each working toward finding a way to deal with their past trauma.

“I have been through those winters – the winter of exile, the winter of my daughter’s death, of divorce, and many other winters – but I know that there is always an invincible summer waiting to manifest,” Allende said.

Sheltered and strengthened by the ties they form with each other, these characters endure the winter to come, eventually, in the warmth of summer. For Richard and Lucía especially, the journey following the initial collision helps them to rediscover their own capacity to fall in love, even at the age of 62.

Mirroring the fictional story of mature love she crafts in “In the Midst of Winter,” Allende’s own rather recent relationship was one she said required risk. Even given the increased possibility of health complications and the simple fact that time is always growing shorter, Allende stressed that such a risk was still worth taking.

“Worse is to be alone. Isn’t it wonderful to risk it? Now, if it doesn’t work, he will be homeless because he already sold his house, got rid of everything it contained, and he’s moved into my house with his bike and his clothes, so it’d better work,” Allende said, once again drawing laughter from the crowd.

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