Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf {ends 8/6}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

In any one year there were only three or four of us Jewish girls at Las Esclavas – always primas. We were a small group of Jews, about a hundred family units, and those of us niñas who attended Las Esclavas had to go to Mass before class like the other girls. The Catholic orders had the only good schools then. Some of my tios chose to send their children to public school in the American Canal Zone with no religious instruction – in spite of the English. Papi wanted us to be “panameñas primero.” Carlitos attended Javier, run by the Jesuit priests.

This interesting memoir focused more on the people in the author’s extended family than where parts of the story took place. This gave the book a very relatable feel – like it could have happened anywhere.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf
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.

In her ‘Note to readers’ at the beginning of the book, the author says she has to leave in a lot of the Spanish phrases that didn’t translate with their full meaning to English. While I can appreciate the sentiment, I feel like I missed parts of the story that weren’t clearly translated. I don’t speak Spanish. Unfortunately, I felt this detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

The book was a lot about the author’s mother, her mother’s mental illness, and the rest of the family’s expectations and treatments of her mother, while they helped care for the author and her siblings. While the closeness of her extended family was seen as common to their community and culture, much of the events in the book felt like they could happen anywhere in the world. I loved the pictures that were shared within the book. They gave more life to the family members as I read about them.

I thought the treatment of her mother’s mental illness in the 1950s and 1960s was an important takeaway from the book. Psychiatry seemed to be inconsistent, and treatments put a lot of pressure on the author’s family to deal with the life her mother sometimes lived, and sometimes was away from for hospitalizations.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. While more Spanish language skills would probably have increased my enjoyment of the book, I feel I learned a lot about the author, her life, and her struggles in her relationship with her mother.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley’s favorite color is black, or maybe pink or orange. Her favorite dinosaur is a velociraptor, because it’s fun to say. She blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of At the Narrow Waist of the World!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 6th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir, by Marlena Maduro Baraf


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