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At the Narrow Waist of the World: A Memoir

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4.33  ·  Rating details ·  15 ratings  ·  11 reviews
Raised by a lively family of Spanish Jews in tropical and Catholic Panama of the l950s 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 on ...more
Kindle Edition
Published August 6th 2019 by She Writes Press
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4.33  · 
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 ·  15 ratings  ·  11 reviews


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Haley Renee The Caffeinated Reader
A heartfelt and poetical memoir ❤

It was written with such fluidity that I forgot that this wasn't just a beautiful novel of fiction. Marlena takes you straight into the heart of her culture, of Panama, and most importantly, her family. There are some similarities over various Hispanic cultures and so I really connected with Baraf's story, things were so easy to understand on more than just a reading intake level.

There really is a poetical feel to it and you get lost in the words and pages. Marl
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Laura Holland
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In her debut memoir, At the Narrow Waist of the World, Marlena Maduro Baraf draws the reader gently into her childhood world, where the detrimental impact of her mother’s unstable mental condition is assuaged by her effervescent extended family. She comes from a tight-knit group of Spanish Jews whose ancestors settled in Catholic Panama, where they embraced a new culture while maintaining their traditions and connections with relatives in other parts of the world. Sorrow comes into young Marlena ...more
Jade
Who hasn’t heard of the Panama Canal before? I know I have, and I kind of know where it is and the purpose that it serves. However, I don’t know much about Panama at all, apart from the fact that it is located south of Costa Rica in Central America, and that it is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. I was really excited to read Marlena Maduro Baraf’s memoir At The Narrow Waist Of The World as I wanted to know more about Panama, and about growing up in Panama in the 50’s and 6 ...more
Elena Schwolsky
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In this debut memoir, Marlena Maduro Baraf crafts a richly layered portrait of a family—lively, interwoven snapshots that form a mosaic of this large extended Jewish family’s life in Panama. The effect is seductive and it drew me further and further in to the life of young Marlena, buffeted by the ups and downs of her mentally ill mother, cushioned by her many tias, tios and primos, coming of age “at the narrow waist of the world.” The prose is luminous, shifting seamlessly from Spanish to Engli ...more
Elizabeth Garber
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Marlena Madura Baraj’s compelling memoir At the Narrow Waist of the World transports us into her Panamanian childhood in the 1950’s when her enchanting mother falls into madness and is sent away for years. She skillfully intertwines Spanish expressions to reveal the bilingual culture of her loving extended family who stepped in to care for the children left behind. Her writing is lush, immersing us in the scent of hot days and bougainvillea, the sounds of children’s games and family feasts, and ...more
Jacqueline Goldstein
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing

A Galaxy of Family
I loved this book from the very first chapter, when the narrator’s mother Julita is introduced under the shade of a calabash tree in 1950’s Panama. A beautiful woman, glamorous as a movie star, Julita has recently undergone psychiatric treatment. She suffers from severe anxiety and worries that the maids in her home have poisoned her food. Her seven-year old daughter, Marlena, tries to tell her that there is no poison. “Pruebelo,” the mother says, meaning, prove it. Unbelievab
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Reyna Gentin
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This memoir isn't lengthy, but it packs an emotional punch. The reader becomes totally immersed in this Jewish Panamanian family, both immediate and extended. In lyrical prose, Baraf draws us in, exposing both pain and love at the core (a mother who struggles with undefined mental illness and a father who dies too young) and the embrace of a tight knit web of aunts, uncles and cousins who pick up the slack and keep the author and her siblings afloat. It is a beautiful testament to an exuberant c ...more
BookOfCinz
At the Narrow Waist of the World is about Marlena Maduro Baraf's childhood in Panama and her navigating her mother who is suffering from mental illness. A short but very personal look into what life was like for Marlena- balancing growing up and all the pains that comes with that, along with trying to be brave for her mother who is suffering. I liked the historical references to Panama and the deeply personal look into Marlena's family line.
Deborah Burns
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Enchanting. A heartfelt saga that pulses with life and holds a culture that needs to be known up the light. A rare, must-read story.
Becki
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
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
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Marilyn Hagar
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Jul 19, 2019
Reading Mama
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Shelley Blanton-stroud
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Holly Jordan
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Aug 21, 2019
Kathleen Garber
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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I love words that illustrate different perspectives. Hybrid. Hyphenated. Bilingual. Multicultural. Synthesis. They point to the richness possible with human groups. Soy panameña y americana. Can you split the two?

Born and raised in Panama, I left my tiny isthmus for Los Estados Unidos de America on the cusp of twenty. In my thirties, I swore allegiance to my adopted country. I worked as book edito
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