As I write this, it’s supposed to be spring, but Toronto is being hit with the usual April snow, this time in the form of slushy white pellets of freezing rain. It feels appropriate under today’s heavy grey skies to tell you about In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende’s latest novel.
November 2017, my dear friend Liz lured me down to Brooklyn because she had tickets to see Isabel Allende at the Brooklyn Public Library. We stood in a line that snaked around inside the building as far the children’s section and finally began inching back toward the main lobby where the talk was to be held. Before taking our seats, we were each handed an autographed hardcover copy of In the Midst of Winter. (Squeal of excitement!) From our places nearly at the back, it was hard to see either the author or her interviewer who were seated, and their amplified voices were not easy to hear in the high-ceilinged, reverberant cafeteria space. Still, I managed to take four pages of notes which helped me appreciate both her writing process and the book itself. “My calling,” she said, “was not the truth. My calling was fiction.”
Before Seinfeld, before Murphy’s Law, there was Voltaire’s Candide. In stark contrast to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, where “everything is awesome,” to quote The Lego Movie, Candide’s world is a string of executions, STDs, natural disasters, wars, rapes, killings and financial disasters. And this is what his tutor Pangloss calls “the best of all possible worlds.” Everything about this philosophical tale contrasts with Siddhartha, even the colour of the cover whose juicy purple is diametrically opposite Siddhartha’s fluorescent yellow. The Penguin Drop Caps edition has a V on the front cover formed by two bolts of lightning, converging to strike a little yellow man. Yep, that’s Candide, for whom whatever can go wrong does go wrong.