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Book Review: *The World in Half* by Cristina Henriquez

world-in-half1

  • The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 2, 2009)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488559

Back of the book blurb: Miraflores has never known her father, and until now, she’s never thought that he wanted to know her.  She’s long been aware that her mother had an affair with him while she was stationed with her then husband in Panama, and she’s always assumed that her pregnant mother came back to the United States alone with his consent.  But when Miraflores returns to the Chicago suburb where she grew up, to care for her mother at a time of illness, she discovers that her mother and father had a greater love than she ever thought possible, and that her father had wanted her more than she could have ever imagined.

In secret, Miraflores plots a trip to Panama, in search of the man whose love she hopes can heal her mother—and whose presence she believes can help her find the pieces of her own identity that she thought were irretrievably lost. What she finds is unexpected, exhilarating, and holds the power to change the course of her life completely.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: In The World in Half, Crisitina Henriquez delivers a delight of a debut novel, a lovely story of self-discovery.

Mira straddles two, or more, worlds; that of a typical 20-year-old college student, that of a a responsible adult caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease, and that of a person searching for her “true self” – biologically and emotionally.  The contrast offered by the various settings – a university near Chicago, the suburbs in which she was raised, and the country of Panama – neatly support her various personas.  Mira may find a way to blend these into her one true self.

When Mira’s mother becomes less and less able to function due to her illness, Mira spends more time at home caring for her.  Early in the novel she discovers a stack of emotion-laden letters addressed to her mother from her biological father, whom she thought was only a brief physical affair.  These letters are the catalyst that send Mira to Panama, searching for the man who once loved her mother, and who may still care for her.

What results in this trip involves an unlikely but wonderful friendship between Mira and a local who sets out to help her.  While some readers might shake their heads and think “this would never happen!”, I was so taken with Henriquez’ prose and the fully-fleshed character development, that I didn’t put the novel to this litmus test.  I found The World in Half, like life itself, to leave me content to wonder “what next”; that the novel stayed with me as I pondered the possibilities is a coup for the author.

Mira is a student of geology, and Henriquez uses scientific metaphor to introduce passages, and in Mira’s voice as she eloquently explains her quest.  This is a lengthy quote, but it is so beautifully written that I must include it in its entirety:

The earth used to be one continent.  And over time, that continent, carried on the backs of thirty different tectonic plates, broke apart.  Even now, the plates are moving under our feet.  The continents are on a collision course every second of every day.  The earth was born and every time a volcano erupts or a plate shifts, the earth is born again.  It keeps reordering itself, it keeps trying new patterns, it keeps meshing one piece with another piece, and then another piece, and then another piece.  I like to imagine that the reason behind all of that relentless effort is that the continents are yearning to come together again, as they were in the beginning.

Humans try to be like the continents.  We stumble and crisscross and stagger all over the world in an effort to find our way back to one another.  It seems to be the main business of life sometimes: our disordered attempt to bump into other people.  Straining, straining, just to touch.

Another, shorter, phrase that struck me is that “hope is a very, very fragile thing, and when you steal it from someone, it can be like stealing their soul.”  Metaphors involving the Panama Canal, including naming conventions and even the goal of cutting “the world in half” are thoughtfully placed, not overdone.  Even the chapter divisions are carefully named, and follow Mira’s path (Origination,  Orientation, Absorption, Crystallization, Erosion, Vibration, etc.)

I do recommend The World in Half, and am eager to visit Cristina Henriquez’ previously published short fiction collection, Come Together, Fall Apart, which I understand is also set in Panama.

19 comments to Book Review: *The World in Half* by Cristina Henriquez

  • The cover of that book just calls my name – I’m so glad to see that what’s inside lives up to it. Thanks for the review.

  • I love the cover too! Besides that, I like the the long extract you included in your review. Books about self-discovery generally appeal to me.

  • Oooh! I have this one here. Can’t wait to get to it.

  • I am really glad you liked this one. I liked it a lot too. I thought the author did a great job with both the story and the character creation. It was a very touching and thought provoking read. Great review!

  • This book and the characters were extremely enjoyable and I can’t wait for Cristina Henriquez’ next book! You are so right about her prose and character development.

  • I’ve been seeing this title around; consider it added to my list LOL thanks for the great review.

  • Kathy – I like the cover, too (guilty of choosing books that way sometimes!)

    Beth – the theme wasn’t knocked over the reader’s head, it just unfolded very naturally

    Julie – hey, grab a snack and get reading :)

    zibilee – definitely thought-provoking; I don’t mind an open-ended book

    Denise – I want to pick up her short fiction collection, which was pub’d in 2006 (I think)

    Diane – glad I could help you add to that ever-growing list!

  • That sounds like a wonderful book. I’m always intrigued with plots that involve the discovery of letters and hidden secrets. And how many times do we choose books by their cover? My mom always told me not to, but I never learned the lesson!

  • The cover got my attention and your review convinced me I should read it!

  • Oh great review! This is one I’d had on my list for a while but just haven’t gotten around to. One of these days :)

  • Sounds like a lovely book. I presume all the HoHos will be receiving a copy (signed of course) in our prize packs?

  • Nice review. I ‘d love to read something set in Panama. And that cover is a beautiful bonus. So glad you enjoyed it. My tbr list is out of sight.
    Thanks for reviewing it.

  • I love to visit other countries via a good book. This sounds like it would fit. Good review.

  • Kay

    This sounds like a great story in an interesting setting. I love the excerpt you posted, too!

  • Sandy – guilty as charged on that judging covers thing!

    Stacy – I’d love to hear your thoughts when you’ve read it.

    iliana – I keep waiting to have “one of those day”, because I’ve got books ready for it.

    rhapsody – ha ha, Ho Ho!

    Sandra – I’m thinking the flowers might be plumeria (?)

    Margot – I learned a lot about the Canal, but not in a boring textbook manner

    Kay – there were many, more subtle, metaphors, but this one really hit home; glad you enjoyed it.

  • I thought this was wonderful, too. I was not expecting much and didn’t know a thing about the story and boy was I taken in by this book. Like you, I didn’t question the reality of the storyline, just accepted it.

  • This looks like a winner. I’ll have to add it to the ever growing list.

    And don’t tell me it would go great with a donut!

  • I love the phrases you pulled out of the story…those were powerful.

  • Tara – we knew it was fiction, so just go with it, right?! beautifully written

    softdrink – a donut, a ding-dong … pick your poison!

    Serena – This is one of those books that had many, many post-it flags flapping from passages I marked!

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