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April 23, 2009

Book Notes - Cristina Henriquez ("The World in Half")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Geological and geographical metaphors abound in Cristina Henriquez's debut novel, The World in Half, as young geology student Miraflores searches for her father in Panama and ends up finding herself. In piecing together Mira's family history, Henriquez's gifts for lyrical prose, complex characters and sharp dialogue shine in one of the year's most moving and memorable novels.

In her own words, here is Cristina Henriquez's Book Notes essay for her novel, The World in Half:

I'm going to be honest. Somewhere along the way – somewhere between the publication of my first book and now this one – music fell out of my life. As if the last three years were the equivalent of taking a road trip and noticing in the rearview mirror that the trunk had flown open and that my suitcase, carrying so much of what until then had really meant something to me, bounced out onto the pavement and tumbled down a hill. As if I couldn't be bothered to stop and run after it; I just watched it roll away. I blame this on having a child, although of course that's a lousy excuse since not everyone who has children has let his or her own musical tendencies fall by the wayside. But just yesterday, because of my daughter, the music in my life included "Elmo's Song," "The Muffin Man," and selections from The Little Mermaid soundtrack. Which perhaps helps explain why, as I was writing this novel, I valued silence above all else, and music was a smaller part of my creative equation than it ever had been before.

Even so, I found myself turning to music when I needed it most, when I needed a jolt or needed to get myself into a certain mood, and time and time again during the writing of this novel, I turned to two albums in particular: Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 and Chopin: 21 Nocturnes; 26 Préludes by Adam Harasiewicz.

The Chopin I've had since high school. In the depths of my teenage moodiness, I used to listen to it all the way through. Over the past few years, though, I kept going to Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat, putting it on repeat as I wrote. There's something about the solemnity and magnitude of that piece that made me feel, well, lifted. It made me feel simultaneously sorrowful and emboldened, which was the emotion I was trying to capture in my narrator, Miraflores, too. I needed a piece of music to break my heart and make it swell at the same time.

As for the Panama! album, it was one I bought when my original conception for a novel was to write something set in the early and middle parts of the last century. I considered it research, a way of getting to know what people in Panama might have been listening to then. When my novel took a turn for the contemporary, though, I kept listening to it. It sounded – especially the first track, "Panama Esta Bueno y … Ma" by Los Exagerados – so much like Panama to me. Near the beginning of the song, the musician calls out, "¡Panamá está bueno!" with such exuberance and pride that it strikes right to my core and reminds me, in a purely emotional way, why it's so important to me to write about this country that I love. I listened to that album many times over as I came up with the sections of the book set in Panama.

I should add that I had Death Cab For Cutie's Plans in my car for a while as I was working on this novel, too, and each time "Different Names for the Same Thing" came on, I found myself musing about my book. I never specifically sought it out as I was writing, but the lyrics have such a literal connection to some of the themes of my novel – travel, dislocation, language, geography – that no doubt the song added fuel to the fire as I worked.

Cristina Henriquez and The World in Half links:

the author's website
the author's Facebook group

Bookopolis review
Time Out New York review

Cafe profile of the author
Flavorwire interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist by the author for her short fiction collection Come Together, Fall Apart
Metro article by the author
National Post interview with the author
Time Out Chicago profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
Antiheroines (interviews with comics artists)
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks


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