Monday, March 2, 2009

The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez - 320 pgs

Book CoverMira has lived most of her life with her headstrong mother, believing that her father didn't want to be part of her life. Her father, a native Panamanian living in his country, maintains no contact with Mira and her mother; in fact Mira has never even met the man. All she knows is that she was the product of an affair between the two while her mother and her then husband were stationed in Panama, and that shortly after she became pregnant, her mother returned to America with her husband. After her mother is diagnosed with a terrible illness, Mira comes across a series of letters, written by her father. The letters change everything for Mira, and she decides to secretly embark on a journey to Panama to find her father. When she arrives there, she meets a young man named Danilo who decides to help her in her quest, and soon Mira and Danilo are exploring the city, hunting down leads and asking questions about the side of her family that she never knew. As her search continues, Mira discovers hope, loss and above all, redemption, and begins to realize that her life and the lives of her family are not what she had once believed.

This book had a lot of interesting qualities. While on the one hand it was quiet and subdued, never rising to a fever pitch, it was also very emotional and at times almost raw in what it was portraying. There were times that it was almost painful to read what was going on, but the author never resorted to melodramatics and theatrics, instead forming a more controlled and solemn narrative. There was a great sensitivity running through this story, and it was almost a feeling of peeking into the lives of real people who were struggling in their situations but putting on a brave face and trudging through for the benefit of the world. I genuinely liked Mira; she was independent, resourceful and honest, and it was interesting to watch her turmoil change her personality, turning her from an observer of life into a participant. I thought the author dealt brilliantly with the themes of illness and the uncertainly that it can cause. It was almost frightening to realize the implications of Mira's mother's illness, and those aspects of the book became almost dire in their significance.

One of the fascinating and unexpected things about this book was the inclusion of bits of information about geology and geography. Mostly this played out as an ongoing conversation between Mira and Danilo about the intricacies surrounding the building of the Panama canal. They discuss the difficulties of the endeavor, the hardships and dangers to the workers, and how the logistical problems of the construction were handled. The author uses the ideas surrounding the building of the canal to furnish the title of her story, and to illustrate some of the ways the construction of the canal parallel the changes in Mira's life.

Another thing I liked is that the plot of the book wasn't predictable. For awhile I thought I had everything all figured out, but it turns out the author had other ideas for the book that broke with formula and tradition, particularly in the case of Danilo. This was especially interesting. This book could have reverted to the same old girl meets boy standard, but I felt that the author created much more tension and meaning with her interpretation of this story. Although Danilo wasn't my favorite character, I thought it was curious to watch the effect that he had on Mira. It was almost as if watching him grow and change, she began to mimic those same motions in herself, although the results differed dramatically. I am inclined to say that Danilo's part of the story had almost as much weight as Mira's. Although she was certainly the focus of the narrative, I felt that his character was the true motivator in this tale. He forced Mira out of her safe and structured role, and forced her to confront ideas that were painful to grasp on her own.

Overall, I found this story quite pleasing. When I picked it up, I had very little information about it. I found that it was a book filled with sentiment and feeling, but not one of overstated drama. In the end, some questions remain unanswered, which I felt was truly like life: not everything is tied up in a nice little bundle. For a first time author, I think this book was quite an achievement, both a satisfying and intelligent debut. Recommended for those who appreciate well defined character development.


Anonymous said...

Great review! It sounds like this was a really rich story that had a lot of elements working for it. I'm glad the plot at time defied your expectations - too much of this can sometimes be frustrating, but just enough can help keep you engaged in the story.

Also, totally unrelated, but I really like the cover art for this one!

Booklogged said...

If the book is anywhere near as well written as your review, I'd like to read it. I like when there is an element of symbolism such as the parallel between the building of the canal and Mira's life.

Meg89 said...

This book sound really good, plus it has a great cover! I'm going to add this one to my TBR list.

Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds great. I have this one at home. thanks for the terrific review. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm excited to read this book with this great review!

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