The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
Mark D. Walker
Having just completed my own memoir, much of which takes place in Guatemala and having all three of our children born there, Jacqueline Sheehan’s novel was a must read. I also wrote about the devastating impact of the violence in the 1990s and its root causes of this sad period in Guatemalan history, which this author introduces in beautiful prose. The story explores the mother-daughter bond which crosses cultures against the backdrop of one of the most violent times of Guatemala’s history,
Young Guatemalan adoptee Sofia is grieving the loss of her stepfather, Martin, who provides information after his death that turns everything she thought about her adoption upside down. She confronts her mother, Kate, who is forced to tell the truth, which takes her back to the 1990s (the transition is seamless).
Kate explains that she was a graduate student in Guatemala when Sofia’s parents were killed and that she had tried to protect her from the violence. But Sofia is determined to discover the truth from the past, which takes her, along with her mother and grandfather, on a journey back to Guatemala. The author’s background as a psychologist is evident in appreciating the family dynamics. Sophia’s confusion and pain are evident just as Kate’s regret and desire to make things right is heartrending. All of this is complicated by Kate’s encounter with her first love in Guatemala, “Will”, who specializes in native languages. Revenge from a fellow American back in the 1990s complicates Kate’s ability to get Sophia safely out of the country. After Kate’s narrow escape from Guatemala, Will pursued his career in Guatemala over the years working with the local Maya communities. When Sophia arrives in Guatemala, she tracks him down during her search for her true identify and looks to him for an explanation of the circumstances that pulled her away from her own Mayan family. While in her former Maya community, Sophia experiences serious culture shock, as everything is so different from her home in the U.S., but her championship level of soccer allows her to connect with all the young people in the community. The story ends with Kate and her true love, Will, leaving a church holding hands after Sophia has popped her head to inquire, “Mom, are you okay?”
The author is a Ph.D, a novelist and essayist. She teaches writing in Guatemala. Her new book, “The Tiger in the House” came out in March of this year. In regards to the reviewer who disputed the fact that the community of Santiago Atitlan, where the initial violence took place, spoke Tz’utujil, not Kaqchikel as stated in the book, I missed this fact, although I worked in Guatemala on and off for over eight years and have visited it all my life with my Guatemalan wife. However, Guatemala has 23 native languages and they do speak Tz’utujil in Santiago, but on the other side of the Lake in Panjalachel, they speak Kaqchikel. It’s complicated. So I’ll give the author a pass and, by the way, the book is fiction, and a real page-turner.
• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: Kensington; 1st edition (December 29, 2015)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1617738964
• ISBN-13: 978-1617738968
• Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
• Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews