The Great Divide

Cristina Henriquez

Book cover for The Great Divide
Book cover for The Great Divide
Book cover for The Great Divide
Book cover for The Great Divide

The Great Divide

The Great Divide

Cristina Henriquez

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A powerful novel about the construction of the Panama Canal, casting light on the unsung people who lived, loved, and labored there

It is said that the canal will be the greatest feat of engineering in history. But first, it must be built. For Francisco, a local fisherman who resents the foreign powers clamoring for a slice of his country, nothing is more upsetting than the decision of his son, Omar, to work as a digger in the excavation zone. But for Omar, whose upbringing was quiet and lonely, this job offers a chance to finally find connection.

Ada Bunting is a bold sixteen-year-old from Barbados who arrives in Panama as a stowaway alongside thousands of other West Indians seeking work. Alone and with no resources, she is determined to find a job that will earn enough money for her ailing sister's surgery. When she sees a young man--Omar--who has collapsed after a grueling shift, she is the only one who rushes to his aid.

John Oswald has dedicated his life to scientific research and has journeyed to Panama in single-minded pursuit of one goal: eliminating malaria. But now, his wife, Marian, has fallen ill herself, and when he witnesses Ada's bravery and compassion, he hires her on the spot as a caregiver. This fateful decision sets in motion a sweeping tale of ambition, loyalty, and sacrifice.

Searing and empathetic, The Great Divide explores the intersecting lives of activists, fishmongers, laborers, journalists, neighbors, doctors, and soothsayers--those rarely acknowledged by history even as they carved out its course.

Critical Reviews

"An elegant thrill of a novel ... the sweep of this story is as vast as the project it covers." -- New York Times

"The Great Divide is Cristina Henríquez's novel reconstruction of the Panama Canal, a well-crafted and meticulously researched marriage of history and story."
-- Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

"The Great Divide joins novels by Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisernos, and Gabriel García Marquez in deepening the people's literary history of Latin America. Henríquez is a master of prose whose enchanting words capture the landscape. . . Henríquez is equally adept at showing the diversity and complexity of her characters....[T]he book's ambition is undeniably valuable: This is about the intimate lives of people who are often forgotten, dismissed and willing to sacrifice body and soul to provide a better life for their loved ones." -- Washington Post

"Cristina Henriquez gives us cause to celebrate with this sweeping novel. It speeds us into a wild world of adventure and danger, epic visions of the creation of the Panama Canal. There isn't another book like it. A welcome return by one of our finest voices."
-- Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Good Night, Irene

"Against the backdrop of the construction of the Panama Canal, Cristina Henriquez's commanding and fearless prose conducts us through the very depth of the Panamanian jungle, where young Ada and Omar fight bravely-- for themselves, their families and their communities survival-- in a rapidly changing world. Violent empire and volatile sickness combine for harrowing effect in this vivid novel that interrogates all that is sacrificed in the name of progress. By turns macabre and also truly joyful, The Great Divide left me with a powerful ache for forgotten histories that will not soon leave me." -- Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"[Henríquez's] work . . . has been some of the warmest, welcoming contemporary fiction on the subject of international borders and families. . . . The Great Divide is set a century ago during the digging of the Panama Canal, and not on the fringes, but among men constructing it, international emigrants hoping to find work in a prosperous Panama, locals protesting Americans, and Americans both eager to help and make a buck. It's a brisk 319-page epic about love and violence that, seamlessly, holds history in balance." -- Chicago Tribune

"A gorgeous, sweeping epic that draws together a truly unforgettable cast of characters. I loved it."
-- Ann Napolitano, author of Hello Beautiful

"The Great Divide is a beautifully written novel that is, at first glance, about the construction of the Panama Canal, but really, it's about the people whose lives were changed in ways good and bad, by man's insatiable desire to conquer--land, other people, the frailties of the human body. The prose offers both intimacy and the expansiveness of a sprawling epic. From the first page to the last, I found myself deeply invested in each of the characters so full of want, so willing to do everything and anything to satisfy those yearnings." -- Roxane Gay, author of Difficult Women

"The Great Divide feels both sweeping--power and science, history and empire--and incredibly precise in its rendering of the human soul. Henríquez writes gorgeously, creating indelible characters whom you'll never want to leave." -- Justin Torres, author of Blackouts

"Henríquez's pitch-perfect novel has the feel of a classic." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A compassionate and insightful historical epic." -- LitHub

"The Great Divide is a sweeping epic that dissects the physical and emotional toll of economic progress." -- Time magazine

"Great historical fiction has to be gripping to work, fusing fact and fiction to deliver information while still keeping readers glued to the pages and invested in the characters. Henríquez accomplishes that and much more here, delivering a sweeping epic that shines a light on the small but very significant kind of stories that were lost in the shadow of a monumental construction."
-- Gabino Iglesias, Boston Globe

"Henríquez's ambitious historical novel revolves around the construction of the Panama Canal...[A] sweeping saga involving the laborers, fishmongers, activists, journalists and neighbors whose lives intersect during this significant time in history."
-- Washington Post

"[The Great Divide] positions [Henríquez ] the company of such authors as Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman, 'who write about places inextricably tied to American history, giving us a better understanding of what that history really is.'"
-- New York Times

" [A] rich, evocative slice of life from a little-known chapter of history." -- Reader's Digest

"Cristina Henríquez paints an intricate, layered portrait of a monumental moment in the history of the Americas: the construction of the Panama Canal. Set in 1907, this polyvocal novel is a powerful act of witness and remembrance." -- BookPage

Publishing Information

Publisher: Ecco Press
Pub date: 2024-03-05
Length: 336 pages
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