At the Narrow Waist of the World

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A book review of At the Narrow Waist of the World by Marlena Maduro Baraf

A book review of At the Narrow Waist of the World by Marlena Maduro BarafStars: ***

She Writes Press (2019)
184 pages

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

Summary: Raised by a lively family of Spanish Jews in tropical and Catholic Panama of the 1950s and 1960s, Marlena depends on her many tíos and tías for refuge from the difficulties of life, including the frequent absences of her troubled mother. As a teenager, she pulls away from this centered world―crossing borders―and begins a life in the United States very different from the one she has known. This lyrical coming-of-age memoir explores the intense and profound relationship between mothers and daughters and highlights the importance of community and the beauty of a large Latin American family. It also explores the vital issues of mental illness and healing, forgiveness and acceptance. At the Narrow Waist of the World examines the author’s gradual integration into a new culture, even as she understands that her home is still―and always will be―rooted in another place.

At the Narrow Waist of the World

I thought I’d enjoy this more because I love reading about other cultures, countries and time periods which this is for me. However I had some issues. The book is written by a Spanish speaking person from Panama and so I understand that some Spanish words and phrases will be in the book. I don’t have a problem with that and the author warns us of this as well. However there was a lot of Spanish that didn’t have a translation. I took Spanish in high school (I’m Canadian so that’s not the norm) so I understood most of what wasn’t translated but if I hadn’t taken any Spanish, it would have been a harder book to read than it already was. I’m sure the book will have readership in the US and I know a lot of people in the US know some basic Spanish so maybe this wouldn’t be as much of a problem there, I’m not sure.

It’s a short book and so the stories that are told are quick, there isn’t deep back story here, which is fine. You get the point of what life was like for Marlena and it was interesting because it’s so much different than how I grew up. Her mom was mentally ill a lot of the time, at a time when treatments were a little more odd than we are used to now. Also hospital stays were a lot longer with her mom staying 2 years at an institution once. Now a days you stay a few weeks and then you’re out. It was not just a window on life in Panama in the 50s but also mental illness in the 50s.

Having such a large extended family live all close together is odd to me, but I’m sure it came in handy when they needed a place for kids to go while adults were busy or unwell.

The book would be a 4-5 star for someone who speaks Spanish but if you don’t, it would be a bit hard to read.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.