The World in Half
by Cristina Henriquez
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
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.
Miraflores is all of twenty years old, so it amazes me that she was able to arrange things at home so that she could fly to Panama and search for her father. She sets her mother up with a caretaker (her mother has early-onset Alzheimer’s) and tells her she’s heading to Washington to do a project for a geology class. That her mother would accept this with so little questioning seems so strange to me, and slightly unrealistic. What struck me as even stranger was that her friends seemed so blasé about it. If I told my best friends that I was going to Panama to search for my missing father, they’d freak out, insist on going with me, and/or probably tell my mom. They’d never agree to cover for me and bless me with a “Have a nice trip!”
In spite of several improbable moments, the narrative is smooth and unfolds in an easy, natural way. Cristina Henriquez paints a very vivid, entertaining portrait of Panama. The city is lively and populated with good-natured, helpful people. Miraflores soon befriends Hernan, the doorman at her hotel, and his enterprising nephew Danilo. They help her and support on her quets, providing her with the family she sought even as her attempts to find her father stagnate. They almost seem too good to be true – Hernan invites her to live with them and Danilo spends days accompanying her around the city searching for her father, neither asking anything in return – but the conversations between Danilo and Miraflores as they attempt to bridge their two vastly different worlds make up some of the most interesting passages in the book.
A dedicated geology student, Miraflores’ conversations and thoughts often focus in on rock-related phenomena. During quiet times there are paragraphs devoted to volcanoes, South Pole exploration, that sort of thing.
For me the book was a quiet sort of work, very introspective and self-contained, and a very quick read. The entire book is written from Miraflores’ point-of-view, which does help streamline it. I think it’s a great book for travel, when you’re on an airplane or a bus or a train, because it will entertain you and even transport you away to the streets of Panama, but you can pull out of it easily and return to the narrative at a later time without a jolt of re-immersion shock that leaves you scrambling to remember what happened before.