‘After the Winter,” a mesmerizing new novel from Guadalupe Nettel follows the lives of two solitary people as they slowly make their way back into the world: Claudio, a Cuban immigrant living in New York; and Cecilia, a Mexican woman pursuing postgraduate study in Paris. Told in alternating perspectives, this philosophical story juxtaposes the pleasures of solitude alongside our human need to connect and belong, resulting in a novel filled with surprising turns and revelations about just what it means to be human.
At its core, “After the Winter” is a love story — just not the sort we’re used to. Cecilia cautiously befriends, then falls in love with, her terminally ill neighbor — a slight man named Tom who shares her penchant for cemeteries, music and conversations on anything but his illness, their relationship, or what will happen when Tom eventually leaves.
On the other side of the Atlantic is Claudio, whose solitary existence resembles the life of a robot more than a man: every day follows the same, precise routine; no one is allowed in his apartment; he maintains no close emotional relationships, since any sentiment or mess leads him to fits. And yet there’s a woman who loves him, Ruth, 15 years his senior, whom he can’t manage to scare away: not with his rough sex, precise rules or cold demeanor. As the novel unfurls, past experiences are revealed, including the ways in which human interaction (or lack thereof) has transformed Cecile and Claudio into the adults they are. After their paths briefly cross, both characters find themselves confronting twists so severe readers are reminded “how hard it is for humans to maintain physical or psychological stability.”
At times a difficult read, yes. But like life itself, “After the Winter” is worth it.