A college student journeys to Panama to track down the father she never knew in this debut novel from Henríquez (Come Together, Fall Apart, 2006).
The product of an adulterous affair between a military wife and a Panama Canal worker, Miraflores (Mira) Reid was raised by single mom Catherine to believe that her biological father had no interest in being a part of her life. Mira is shocked, then, to discover a stash of letters testifying to Gatun Gallardo’s passionate yearning to be with her and her mother; it was Catherine who decided they should be apart. Unfortunately, confronting Mom is not really an option, since she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s and becoming more helpless each day. Anxious to find out more about Gatun’s world, Mira hires a health aide to look after Catherine, takes a leave from school and jets down to Panama to find him. Shortly after arriving in the tropical splendor of Central America, she meets a semi-employed young charmer named Danilo all too eager to help out the pretty tourist. His uncle Hernán also takes a liking to her, in a more paternal way, and she stays with the two bachelors while hitting one dead end after another. Danilo, it turns out, knows more than he lets on, and Mira’s poignant discovery of what actually happened to her dad complicates their burgeoning relationship. Back in Chicago, Mira has to deal with her mother’s worsening condition and her own lingering anger over the family life they could have had. It is a lot for a young person to handle, as Mira is forced to face her fears and learn from Catherine’s mistakes. The talented Henríquez writes plenty of soaring passages, and Danilo is a wonderful character; but like its conflicted heroine, the novel seems unsure whether it belongs in Chicago or Panama.
Thoughtful travelogue whose terrain includes the mother/daughter minefield.