- 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.