Book Review

The Wind Knows My Name

The Wind Knows My Name

  • Author: Isabel Allende
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: June 6, 2023
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: antisemitism, death, suicide, violence, depiction of Kristallnacht and a pogrom, mention of rape, discussion of genocide, racist microaggressions, mention of a massacre, trauma, xenophobia, blood, mention of torture, mention of alcoholism, mention of domestic violence, grief, forcible separation of children from their parents, racism, sexual assault of a child

This powerful and moving novel from the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Petal of the Sea weaves together past and present, tracing the ripple effects of war and immigration on one child in Europe in 1938 and another in the United States in 2019.

Vienna, 1938. Samuel Adler was six years old when his father disappeared during Kristallnacht—the night their family lost everything. Samuel’s mother secured a spot for him on the last Kindertransport train out of Nazi-occupied Austria to the United Kingdom, which he boarded alone, carrying nothing but a change of clothes and his violin.

Arizona, 2019. Eight decades later, Anita Diaz, a blind seven-year-old girl, and her mother board another train, fleeing looming danger in El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States. However, their arrival coincides with the new family separation policy, and Anita finds herself alone at a camp in Nogales. She escapes through her trips to Azabahar, a magical world of the imagination she created with her sister back home.

Anita’s case is assigned to Selena Duran, a young social worker who enlists the help of a promising lawyer from one of San Francisco’s top law firms. Together they discover that Anita has another family member in the United States: Leticia Cordero, who is employed at the home of now eighty-six-year-old Samuel Adler, linking these two lives.

Spanning time and place, The Wind Knows My Name is both a testament to the sacrifices that parents make and a love letter to the children who survive the most unfathomable dangers—and never stop dreaming.

I’ve been a fan of Isabel Allende since I read The House of the Spirits, and I discovered an author who could actually make me enjoy magical realism. And I know it’s a bit early since this novel doesn’t release until June, but it’s Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to read a book written by Latin America’s first successful female authors? So I naturally went into this with high expectations.

The book starts out in Vienna, on the eve of Kristallnacht. We’re introduced to the Adlers, a small Jewish family with a five-year-old son, Samuel, who is a violin prodigy. Allende quickly introduces the sweeping changes that have occurred in Vienna after the Germans have come and taken over, and takes the reader through the traumatizing events of Kristallnacht. While Dr. Adler is seriously injured in the pogrom, and in the hospital afterwards, Mrs. Adler and Samuel are protected by a neighbor. Mrs. Adler does everything she possibly can to secure visas out of the country for the three of them, but ultimately is only able to get Samuel out of Austria, on the last Kindertransport to England. 

Samuel arrives in England at a young age, alone and a refugee in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and has no idea what is happening. There weren’t any counseling services available, and he just did his best to fit in and make his new life work by pushing everything down and retreating farther into himself. It wasn’t until years later that he actually found out what had happened to the rest of his family, but by then he was already working to build his own life.

We’re then introduced to Leticia, a young girl in El Salvador. She was suffering from a health issue and finally was able to seek treatment at a distant hospital. Her father brought her there, and since they were away from their village, they were the only survivors of the El Mozote massacre. She and her father then made their way to the United States, where they slowly rebuilt their life.

Finally, we meet Anita. She’s a blind seven-year-old girl who fled to America with her mother in an attempt to seek refuge from violence. However, the restrictive policies at the US border led to the traumatic separation of Anita from her mother, and she was thrust into a system that wasn’t prepared to handle her appropriately. 

I could see early on the parallels in each of these stories—three children fleeing violence and certain death in their home countries and seeking refuge in different countries, where they weren’t always welcomed with open arms. However, I didn’t realize how closely intertwined these stories would become. I loved how the stories wove together from three separate tales into a single storyline. 

This isn’t an easy story to read. It talks about the long-lasting effects of trauma and the unique ways in which people cope with it. For Samuel, his music was his means of escape. Anita uses a magical world that she created using her imagination. And for Leticia, she copes by simply not thinking about it, much like her father. However, each of them are affected differently, and were exposed to different levels of violence and threats. I especially liked the chapters from Anita’s point of view, which provided insight into her mindset and were more of a stream of consciousness narrative, while Samuel’s were somewhat reflective, looking back over the years of his life.

The portrayal of a character with a disability was done beautifully in this book. Anita was never babied, and was depicted as an independent character, specifically saying “I can do it myself.” I liked seeing the way that the people around her didn’t underestimate her abilities simply because she was visually impaired, but instead found ways to work with her disability and allowed her to still learn how to do many things on her own. In addition, instead of doing things for her, they rearranged her living environment to be more suitable for her needs, demonstrating a respect for her that was a beautiful thing to see. 

This was a quick read that I found myself engrossed in. I liked seeing what was going on through the eyes of the different characters, and couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next, and what would ultimately happen to Anita. There are some mild elements of magical realism in the story as well, with a clairvoyant grandmother in the story, and possibly some psychic abilities in one of the characters, although this isn’t delved into in detail. There are also some ghosts that are mentioned, although they don’t play a major role in the story. However, I struggled to feel emotionally connected to some of the characters, and felt most connected to Anita and Selena, but overall this was still a good read that I’d recommend.

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