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The Wind Knows My Name


The Wind Knows My Name

Bestselling and critically acclaimed author Isabel Allende traces the reverberating effects of national crises and government-sponsored violence in THE WIND KNOWS MY NAME. This soaring, sweeping novel places the focus on the children who survive these man-made disasters…and their ability to keep hoping and dreaming, despite all odds.

The book begins in 1938 with the introduction of the Adler family. They are Jewish residents of Vienna who, despite being respected members of their community, are starting to be shunned and looked down upon as a result of the Nazi occupation. The patriarch, Rudolph, has seen the writing on the wall and has wisely placed his family practice and apartment under the name of a beloved neighbor, an Aryan who will not attract suspicions no matter what happens. But Rudolph’s wife, Rachel, knows none of this and worries only about her young son, Samuel, a musical prodigy whose sweet, good-natured ways are in direct contrast to the horrors sweeping their country and continent.

"It is Allende’s bravery in not only confronting but connecting these painful historical moments that makes her writing so iconic and unforgettable."

On the night we meet the Adlers, their lives are about to change forever as Nazi soldiers posing as civilians and real civilians caught up in the hatred, chaos and fear rampage and ransack their community, resulting in Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. Rachel and her son will never see Rudolph again, and though Rachel tries desperately to keep her broken family together, it soon becomes apparent that Samuel’s only chance at freedom lies in another country. His childhood ends on the same day that she places him on a Kindertransport train to England.

Moving ahead in history, Allende places her readers in El Salvador in 1981, where a young girl, Leticia, lives with her parents, grandmother and siblings, happily playing in her village, eating simple but delicious meals, and worshiping God. However, as her baptism at the age of eight approaches, she falls seriously ill, and her father is forced to rush her to a hospital several hours away by bus. Leticia is saved in the nick of time, but that will be her last miracle. By the time her father returns to collect her weeks later, he looks more like a filthy beggar than the hardworking man she recalls. He tells her simply that their home and their family no longer exist, and the two set off for America, having just barely escaped the massacres of El Mozote with their lives.

In 2019, a different crisis takes hold of the world as the border between Mexico and America falls under a zero-tolerance policy that not only bars refugees from entering the states, but separates families who come seeking asylum. All over the nation, citizens watch as images of children in cages flash across their screens, but that is only half the horror. Even when the policy is rescinded, families are still broken up under different pretexts and with inaccurate, unmaintained records. It results in thousands and thousands of children separated from their families, and no way of knowing if the parents who carried them through frigid rivers and over dangerous borders are still in the country...or if they will be alive in their home countries if their children are sent back.

Selena Duran does her part with her involvement in the Magnolia Project for Refugees and Immigrants, an organization that seeks to connect these children --- some of whom are still infants --- with reputable lawyers who can plead their cases for asylum in a country where they not only don’t speak the language, but don’t know the laws or nuances of their situation. Fortunately for Selena, she has just met Frank Angileri, a prominent, highly respected lawyer who has agreed to take on the case of seven-year-old Anita Diaz pro bono.

While differing in detail, history and crisis, these characters arrive in THE WIND KNOWS MY NAME at the same traumatic moment: each is escaping a humanitarian crisis that is not just ignored by their government, but often encouraged and financed by it. When their stories converge, Allende’s characters have found themselves in America --- Samuel, an old man; Leticia, his hired help; Anita, a traumatized child in a foster home --- allowing her to do what she does best: weave together disparate, emotional storylines into a satisfying, fully realized conclusion. Although packed with historical detail and fact, this is no history book. She instead gives weight to these unimaginable horrors by focusing on those most affected by them: the children.

Allende pens a powerful tale of interconnectivity, highlighting not just the similarities between Nazi Germany and contemporary America, but the unthinkable and horrifying damage caused by each cruel, state-sanctioned act of violence. If there is a flaw in THE WIND KNOWS MY NAME, it is only that Allende tends to overexplain the historical moment, particularly in her present-day timeline. She is such a gifted and elegant writer who is able to infuse even the most fleeting moments of human interaction with affecting, moving grace that her reliance on detail here feels like a lack of confidence in her reader to make the connections that she so beautifully lays out without trying. But that’s my only quibble.

It is Allende’s bravery in not only confronting but connecting these painful historical moments that makes her writing so iconic and unforgettable.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 9, 2023

The Wind Knows My Name
by Isabel Allende

  • Publication Date: May 28, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593598121
  • ISBN-13: 9780593598122