Vienna, 1938. Samuel Adler is five years old when his father disappears during Kristallnacht. As her child's safety becomes ever harder to guarantee, Samuel's mother secures a spot for him on a Kindertransport train out of Nazi-occupied Austria to England. He boards alone, carrying nothing but a change of clothes and his violin.
Arizona, 2019. Eight decades later, Anita Díaz and her mother board another train, fleeing looming danger in El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States. But their arrival coincides with the new family separation policy, and seven-year-old Anita finds herself alone at a camp in Nogales. She escapes her tenuous reality through her trips to Azabahar, a magical world of the imagination. Meanwhile, Selena Durán, a young social worker, enlists the help of a successful lawyer in hopes of tracking down Anita's mother.
The shared experience of separation from home, parents and siblings — a trauma one never leaves behind — eventually unites Anita and Sam. And while the cadence of Allende's storytelling is occasionally marked by social justice advocacy as dialogue, it's dialogue that's current, relevant and real ... A reader comes to understand the title of Allende's novel is both a reference and a refrain, revealed at the precise moment when yearning is at risk and nothing about Anita and Sam's search for home is certain. Their whistling in the dark is a forever song of hope. You can hear it, as I once did, in the true life neighborhoods of Ambos Nogales.
The deliberate cruelty of the bureaucracies that enforce the separations, and the enduring psychic wounds these ruptures inflict on children, are the novel’s foundation and its psychological backbone. All of the characters in this timely, provocative story carry the weight of painful history, and their lives converge near the end of the book ... Telling a story that is rooted so deeply in political events can be a difficult balancing act; an author walks a fine line between writing immersive fiction and explaining historical and social context. The Wind Knows My Name contains little of the magic that defined Allende’s earlier novels. Instead, she turns her focus to the brutal details of government-sponsored violence and asks her reader to look closely at the devastation. Allende draws a straight line from Nazi Germany to modern-day atrocities — not because the specifics are the same, but because the damage is. As these characters come together in an emotionally satisfying arc, the solution turns out to be the kindness of strangers who become family. That, at least, is the story Allende is telling. In the real world, the solution is to protect the vulnerable by not tearing families apart in the first place — a less dramatic story, but a much preferable reality.
While the sheer scale of the story means it feels a little rushed in places, it remains exemplary of the masterful storytelling that has made the 80-year-old Chilean-American one of the most popular authors writing in Spanish today ... Readers who prize an epic, heavily plot-driven story will relish being swept away by the force of The Wind Knows My Name.