Book Review: Isabel Allende’s ‘The Wind Knows My Name’ explores lives of 2 children adrift alone

PHOENIX (AP) — “The Wind Knows My Name” by Isabel Allende (Ballantine Books)

Prolific Latin American-born author Isabel Allende skillfully braids the traumatic stories of two young children separated from each other by decades and thousands of miles in her latest novel, “The Wind Knows My Name.”

It’s a kind of homage to parents who make unthinkable decisions to save their little ones, and to kids who survive some of the toughest challenges imaginable.

One fictional child featured in the book is 5-year-old Samuel Adler, whose father disappeared after the 1938 pogrom in Vienna known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. The other is 7-year-old Anita Diaz, who fled her native El Salvador with her mother only for the pair to be separated in 2019 at the Arizona-Mexico border.

In both cases, the children are traveling by train and are ultimately left alone, torn from their families by war or immigration as we witness the dramatic sacrifices parents sometimes must make to protect their sons and daughters and give them the best lives possible.

Allende moves the story back and forth between Europe and the United States, switches between the past and present, as two very different children in very different places and circumstances search for the safety of home and family.

It’s a very different kind of book for Allende, who often places her stories in her native Latin America, including her best known and highly successful novel, “The House of Spirits” and last year’s “Violeta,” which stretches across a century of South American history.

Early on in this latest novel, a Nazi mob attacks the Jewish neighborhood where Samuel lives with his parents. Afterward the father turns up in a hospital, but then is taken to a concentration camp and the mother sends the boy to safety in England. Samuel never sees his parents again.

Decades later on the U.S.-Mexico border, Anita Diaz, 7, is separated by her mother under the U.S. government’s previous no tolerance policy that tore child migrants from their parents. The little girl is sent to live in a group home for children while her mother’s whereabouts are unknown.

Through a series of circumstances, Samuel and Anita eventually meet through Leticia, a Salvadoran woman who migrated to the U.S. as a child herself after losing most of her family in the infamous 1981 massacre of hundreds of villagers in El Mozote, El Salvador.

Allende knows firsthand about the loss of homeland after leaving Chile for exile two years after Salvador Allende, her father’s first cousin, was overthrown as the country’s president in a 1973 coup.

She lived for years in Venezuela before settling in the United States and now calls California home.

Considered the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author, Allende is known for her many novels including “Eva Luna,” “Of Love and Shadows“ and “A Long Petal of the Sea.” She also wrote “Paula,” a 1994 memoir.

With “The Wind Knows My Name,” Allende has added a new dimension to her already varied works.

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