51 pages 1 hour read

Isabel Allende

The Wind Knows My Name

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


The Wind Knows My Name is the 22nd novel by Isabel Allende, published in 2023 by Ballantine Books. The book has some elements of magical realism, for which Allende is known, but is predominantly a work of historical fiction.

In addition to her works of fiction, Allende has authored five works of nonfiction, including memoirs. She grew up in Peru, moving to Chile during her childhood and later to Bolivia and Lebanon. After Chile’s president Salvador Allende, a relative of Isabel Allende’s, was overthrown in 1973, she moved to Venezuela and helped arrange passage for people fleeing the new Chilean government under General Augusto Pinochet. Throughout her life, Allende has been a humanitarian with close personal knowledge of the struggles of Central and South America, which are predominant topics in this novel. Allende has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction, as well as for her humanitarian efforts.

A national bestseller, The Wind Knows My Name follows events in 1930s Vienna, Austria, 1980s El Salvador, and the modern-day US. The plot involves the intersecting lives of Samuel Adler, a Jewish man forced to leave Vienna in 1938; Leticia Cordero, a Salvadoran woman who migrated to the US from El Salvador following the El Mozote Massacre; Selena Durán, an activist for human rights along the US-Mexico border in 2019; and Anita Díaz, a young Salvadoran girl who was separated from her mother at the border. Each character experiences the hardships associated with crossing borders, entering new cultures, and navigating the people and systems that oppress and harm different groups. Linking Nazi Germany, 1980s El Salvador, and the present-day US under a common topic of oppression and violence, Allende weaves together the ways that trauma can have lasting effects but can be alleviated through support, friendship, and resilience. The novel explores the themes of Denial in the Face of Atrocities, Family as the Greatest Strength, and The Gendered Differences in Violent Oppression.

This guide references the Ballantine Books edition of the novel, published in 2023. The text was translated from the original Spanish by Frances Riddle.

Content Warning: This guide contains descriptions of mass violence, antisemitism, genocide, discrimination, sexual assault, and hate crimes, which are depicted in The Wind Knows My Name.

Plot Summary

In 1938, young Samuel Adler is forced to flee Vienna, Austria, because of intensifying persecution of Jewish communities under Nazi occupation. His father, Rudolph, is captured in the riots of Kristallnacht and sent to a concentration camp, while his mother, Rachel, struggles to secure safe passage out of Vienna for herself and Samuel. Sent alone to England, Samuel grows up disconnected from his Jewish heritage and doesn’t discover until after the Holocaust has taken his family that he’s alone in the world. Later moving to the US, Samuel cultivates the love for music that he lost during his youth and tries to escape his traumatic past by diving into the world of jazz in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In 1981, young Leticia Cordero travels to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, to receive treatment for a burst stomach ulcer. Her father takes her there and then returns to their hometown of El Mozote. However, when her father returns five days later to take her home, he’s distraught and haggard. He explains to Leticia that El Mozote has been destroyed, and their family no longer exists. The two journey north to the US, and eventually settle in California, where Leticia grows up, marries, has a child, and begins work as a housekeeper.

In 2019, Selena Durán lives in the US state of Arizona and works with the Magnolia Project, recruiting lawyers to take on the cases of children separated from their parents along the US-Mexico border. She successfully recruits Frank Angileri, a successful corporate lawyer, who agrees to help her, thinking that he can seduce her. However, Selena and Frank become invested in the case of Anita Díaz, a young Salvadoran girl who has been separated from her mother, Marisol. No one knows where Marisol is or whether she was deported to a country south of the border. Anita is staying at a detention center in Arizona, where she’s referred to by a number instead of her name, and the other children bully her. She has partial blindness as a result of a car accident years earlier, and she comforts herself by speaking with the ghost of her sister, Claudia. Fortunately, her guardian angel takes her to Azabahar, a star on which Anita can visit with friends and family from El Salvador.

When Samuel arrives in New Orleans in the 1950s, he meets Nadine Leblanc, and the two get married, moving back to England for a time. However, Samuel and Nadine soon end up in Berkeley, California, and they have a daughter, Camille. Nadine turns their home into a kind of hostel, allowing students and “hippies” alike to stay with them as they please, but Samuel disapproves, which leads to their divorce. Years later, Samuel reunites with Nadine in Guatemala, where she has perfected her fabric weaving, and the two move back to their home in Berkeley until her death shortly before 2019.

At the time of Nadine’s death, Samuel employs Leticia as their housekeeper, and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic leads Leticia to temporarily move into Samuel’s house. The two develop a close relationship as Samuel continues to age, preventing him from taking care of household tasks himself. Anita, after experiencing various traumas in different foster homes, moves in with Samuel and Leticia after discovering that Leticia is a distant relative of hers. Anita, Samuel, and Leticia form a new family unit and help each other grow and overcome their different traumatic pasts.

Selena and Frank learn that Carlos Gómez, a man who abused both Marisol and Anita, is a mass murderer who killed and buried numerous women and children on his property. Among the discovered bodies is that of Marisol, and though this is heartbreaking for Anita, it gives her closure and allows Frank to secure Anita permanent residency in the US.