Isabel Allende comes to Atlanta for ‘In the Midst of Winter’ book tour

If you've read Isabel Allende, then you know. If you've not read Allende, what a rich and delectable feast awaits.

The Chilean-American novelist will discuss her new work, "In the Midst of Winter," on Thursday night at the Atlanta History Center.

The event is part of a 20-city tour for Allende, whose 23 books include four nonfiction titles. Her novels include “The House of Spirits,” “Eva Luna,” “Of Love and Shadows,” “Daughter of Fortune” and “The Japanese Lover.”

In 2014, Allende was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. (The only others in the literary field to receive the distinction in the past 25 years are the late Elie Wiesel, the late Harper Lee, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison.)

Atlanta is a highlight for Allende on her tour because she gets to visit her brother Juan, a retired Agnes Scott College professor, who lives here.

“In the Midst of Winter” involves three characters who are unexpectedly thrown together and embark on a dicey (and icy) mission during a massive snowstorm.

The characters: Richard Bowmaster, a cautious and disciplined New York University professor who owns a Brooklyn brownstone; his feisty basement tenant Lucia Maraz, a Chilean exile whom Richard enlisted for a one-year teaching post at NYU; and Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, fragile and easily frightened.

Richard and Lucia are each around 60, and Evelyn is in her late 20s. The trio’s dicey mission, which Allende also calls a “rash pilgrimage,” commences soon after Richard, while driving slowly on a snowy city street, hits a white Lexus driven by Evelyn.

Allende had only started writing this story when New York City was socked by the Jonas snowstorm that hit on Jan. 22, 2016. “It was like a gift to me,” she says.

Her latest is trademark Allende: a lively and lyrical narrative, with an intricate plot blending historic fiction, suspense and romance with real circumstances surrounding longtime political unrest in Latin American countries.

“Winter” unfolds over just three days, but regularly flashes back to 1970s Chile and Brazil and to Guatemala in more recent years. Just when the reader is in the thick of what’s happening as the blizzard blows, Allende pivots back into the past. It’s a shrewd and thrilling way to dole out details of each main character’s journey.

A line by Albert Camus serves as this novel’s epigraph: “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.”

“The idea of an emotional winter is what I was living at the moment I started this book,” Allende says. “My marriage of 28 years had come to an end, and of course it didn’t just end in one day. Many difficult moments lead up to a final end.

“But I also knew that I had gone through other emotional winters and I have come out OK.”

“Winter’s” three central characters are each “living in their own sort of emotional winter,” Allende says. When something unexpected brings them together, “they don’t back off. They risk getting involved, and that allows them to open their hearts to compassion. They each discover their invincible summer that had been waiting all along.”

Whenever it’s time to begin a book, Allende does so on Jan. 8. There’s but a smidge of superstition to that. It’s really all about discipline.

“Writers don’t have a boss. We could be procrastinating forever, so I have to make it happen.” The Jan. 8 start date “helps me organize my life.” For a long while, she doesn’t travel or have a social life.

“Not until I have a first draft. There’s no schedule and I write obsessively. If I have an idea, sometimes I’ll get up in the middle of the night and just keep going.”

For Allende, “writing is like dancing. You get into the rhythm. If you interrupt it for any reason, you have to start again to find the rhythm. There are other times when you are dancing along in that rhythm and you just can’t stop.”

Once she has a first draft, then she can work “normal” hours — about six hours a day. “That’s when I feel safe and can start to go deeper. But the story’s there — I got it.”

Much like characters in “In the Midst of Winter,” Allende is about to change her own life course. That’s because she’s in love all over again.

“When I separated at 72, I envisioned a happy life with family and my readers, my work and my dog. Now I’m 75 and I’m in love and starting a new romantic adventure. Oh, I have lucked out!”

This love, named Roger, arrived “like a gift from heaven,” she says. “My only contribution was that I was open and willing to take the risk.”

She met Roger in New York. “Winter” is dedicated to him. “We’re going to start a life together,” says Allende, sounding all-out giddy. “If it doesn’t work, he will be homeless, because he sold his house. He’s moving to California (her longtime home) with only his clothes and one bike. He is taking the biggest risk, of course. He has an open heart and has allowed his invincible summer to manifest.”

The interview time is up. In the midst of hurried goodbyes, one more question is posed: “What do you do purely for fun, Isabel?”

“Make love!” she shouts, then hangs up.

EVENT PREVIEW

“In the Midst of Winter” by Isabel Allende (Atria, 340 pages, $28)

Isabel Allende in Conversation with Gail O’Neill:

7 p.m. Thursday; doors open at 6 p.m. $40, which includes book; $35 for Atlanta History Center members. Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. Reservations via online or phone required. 404-814-4000, www.atlantahistorycenter.com.

Allende will not sign books at the event, but all books included with admission will be pre-signed.

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