There is a snowstorm of epic proportions as Isabel Allende starts her latest book. The world is shut down, enclosed with snow and ice.
Chilean academic Lucia Maraz is hunkered down in her rented basement, her friend and landlord Richard Bowmaster is upstairs. There is a strained relationship between the two as we meet them. Richard lives a shutdown and circumscribed life, Lucia has hoped to break through this, but has had little luck.
Then Richard goes out to take one of his cats to the vet. On the way back he is involved in a collision with a young Guatemalan, Evelyn Ortega. Things start to go seriously awry when Evelyn returns later and Lucia and Richard are caught up in a macabre road trip to protect the young woman.
Allende slides her story between the past and the present, going back to the horrors of Chile and Guatemala under military rule. She conjures up worlds that seem so real that one feels one is living in them - or she mostly does - and there are moments when the writing seems too casual and slippery, too loose for the author who brought us House of the Spirits.
Having said that, there is also a cathartic air expressed through her writing that does not only reference Richard’s ulcer and his troubled intestines. As the journey proceeds, a healing process takes place for the characters, as they tell each other their stories and find redemption.
If you love Allende you will want to add this to your collection, but judge it on its own merits as a novel and resist the temptation to compare it to some of her other works.
Dealing with the harsh horrors of illegal immigrants, it also references the suffering of those who must face the implacable US policies of President Donald Trump, although, having said that, Allende manages through a sly commentary to ridicule these too.
* Available on Loot.co.za for R303