Member Reviews

I love historical fiction so I was very intrigued to read about this time period and location that I am unfamiliar with.

I found that since this was more of a character-led story, I didn't learn as much about the canal project as I would have liked. There are A LOT of characters in this book so it can be hard to follow and link storylines.

I do think that this book actually has great potential as a film script. Would try another book from this author.

Thanks: Received from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5

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This is not a book with happily-ever-afters. Given the topic discussed I should not have expected anything different.There was something about the ending and the way it tied up some things and not others was what enchanted me. Also, I realised extremely late that the cover has people's faces on the side. I usually pride myself about my observation skills -so this was a little embarrassing.

The story is based during one of the phases of the building of that Panama canal, something I knew nothing about, and even worse - I did not realise there was something to know about it in the first place! The history itself was fascinating, anyone who thinks fiction doesn't match up to non-fiction should try books like this. This version provides a kaleidoscopic look at a lot of people involved in the construction of the canal and those whose life was affected by the same. The author brings to life the average people and how the known facts about the situation would have impacted their day-to-day.

I am not going into the individual characters or what times they play because there are several and they need to be met and understood at the pace that the author talks of them. There is a subtle hint of magical realism but it is not strong enough to interfere with an otherwise practical storyline.

The people and their interactions are the strength of the book. There were some sad scenes I wish I did not linger on, but they are written with heart and it is hard not to shed a tear or two multiple times during the book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction or even just history.

I received an ARC thanks to Netgalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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3,5 stars


"The Great Divide" was an interesting read, but, at least for me, the story suffered from having too many characters without really developing any of them. Sometimes it felt more like a collection of connected short stories instead of one connected novel.

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My first book by Cristina Henríquez and certainly not the last. The Great Divide explores the lives of the people who lived and worked in Panama during the construction of the canal. Through multiple perspectives, we get a sense of the conditions and relationships in that period. It is a story of division, in many ways. I loved the historical context and the many diverse characters. Beautifully told and gripping, this novel is highly recommended.

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Title: "The Great Divide" by Cristina Henríquez: A Poignant Exploration of Immigration in America

In "The Great Divide," Cristina Henríquez paints a vivid portrait of the immigrant experience in America. Through the lens of a single family, Henríquez delves deep into the complexities of identity, the struggle for belonging, and the harsh realities of navigating a divided society. With exquisite prose and heartfelt storytelling, she brings to life the hopes, dreams, and challenges faced by those on both sides of the border. "The Great Divide" is a compelling and timely novel that offers profound insights into the human cost of immigration and the enduring power of resilience.

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I was attracted to Cristina Henríquez's third novel, The Great Divide, because it promised a panoramic look at the building of the Panama Canal in the early twentieth century, skipping between the viewpoints of labourers, fishermen, local activists, a teenage girl from Barbados drawn to Panama in hope of good wages, and a doctor who is trying to eliminate malaria on the isthmus. But The Great Divide actually has precious little to say about the Panama Canal, preferring instead to give us a series of stock characters: the frail, silenced white middle-class wife, the 'bold' black girl who is trying to make a better life for her family, the grumpy Panamanian fisherman who wants to defend the way things have always been done, the brutal US overseer who believes in the march of progress. Because most of the novel switches between so many different sets of people, almost none of which have anything interesting about them (there's perhaps some potential in the doctor, John Oswald, and the fisherman, Francisco), it feels flat and slow; I love character-led fiction, but it does require... characters. There's also almost no sense of place, which surely should have been crucial here, because of the consistent vagueness of Henríquez's writing. Here's a description of a busy street, for example: 'Carriages led by horses clapped down the road, and carts led by mules in turn led by men rattled and clanked. Women walked about carrying baskets on their backs or their heads or in the crooks of their arms. Well-attired people stood on street corners and talked. Every building looked clean and brand new'. Anyway: I guess this is a reminder of why I rarely read straightforward historical fiction.

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It was fascinating to learn about this period in history, the construction of the Panama Canal and the societal divides and norms that existed at that time.

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Thank you to NetGalley and 4th Estate and William Collins for this eARC.

The one beautiful thing about books is we get experience other places and things. This book made me look into the construction of the Panama Canal. This is something that wouldn’t have crossed my mind at all.

With that being said, I did not enjoy this book. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. A lot was happening but it also felt as though not enough was happening. As a slice of life book, it would work well as a movie or a limited series.

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A historical novel set in Panama at the time of the building of the Panama Canal. The title of the novel, as well as referring to the canal itself, could also refer to the political and social divisions in the country over the building of the canal, especially between the Americans funding the enterprise and the workers, both local and itinerant, labouring in the building of the project. Several storylines interlink, focusing on the lives of those who were involved in the process of building the canal, bringing the community to life. Sometimes the author pushes historical facts into the narrative, which although interesting and relevant, feel like inserted pieces of research. On the whole it is an enjoyable but not especially memorable read.

With thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

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A beautiful, informative and ultimately feel-good novel about the lives of those who lived and worked in Panama during the construction of the canal. A wide set of multi-layered characters and intertwined storylines that will captivate you from the very first page. The author writes beautifully.

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A historical novel set against the backdrop of the construction of the Panama canal. I was absolutelygripped throughout.
The amount of characters did take a while to get my head around , however when it clicked it was such a clever device.
Thoroughly recommend!

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Based on the subject matter, I likely wouldn't have picked this novel up but I did so on the strength of some really good advanced notices and I wasn't disappointed. Wonderful and richly dawn characters, this is a warm and wise novel with a historical backdrop I knew nothing about but that was vividly brought to life and encouraged me to learn more. Highly recommended and thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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4.75

A heartwarming account of the building of the Panama canal and its effects on various people's lives.

At first, I wasn't sure about this book. There seemed to be many characters and plot strands and I felt as though I was just getting used to one character when we switched to someone else. However, gradually everyone's lives intertwined, which I really loved. There were some tragic moments but overall this was a very hopeful book with loveable people and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to have such a different subject. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers and Netgalley for kindly providing me with an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the 4th Estate for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rating:3.5/5
'The Great Divide' is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the construction of the Panama canal. This is a historical event I was completely unfamiliar with, and it was fascinating to read about. The author has built a diverse cast of characters from different backgrounds and having different motivations. It was difficult to keep track of all the characters but I ended up being invested in all of the plotlines. The book is not just about the construction of the canal- it is about the the people whose lives were impacted by it. The descriptions and the atmosphere make it a truly immersive book. The pacing was a little too slow for my liking. I just wished the individual storylines has connected sooner. The book also ended up sharing a lot of unnecessary information that didn't have any significance. However, the last 20% was really good.
I think the great divide is worth reading for the discussions on colonialism. I'd also recommend this for those who enjoy character driven historical fiction.

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The Great Divide depicts the building of the Panama Canal by the USA in the early twentieth century, but it isn't about the Panama Canal. Indeed only one of the central characters actually works on the project, the others are locals, drawn to the area by work, or even a secondary connection through marriage or working for those who work on around the construction. And the core set of characters aren't even in Panama initially, the Bunting family are in Barbados. But what the book is about is this confluence, patterns of migration, and what happens to the indigenous population when a project of this scale is put together, It is a book with a wide canvas, but is actually very tight, and I soon got the hanging of the various threads of the lead characters, all drawn well enough to want me to keep dipping in to each strand as they inevitably connect.

Each of the individual stories here are fascinating, from the fisherman father whose son does end up working on the canal, to the doctor trying to solve the malarial problems. Henriquez manages to get into many nooks and crannies of the newly independent Panama; independent from Colombia, but now in a weird symbiosis with the USA who they have leased the canal lands to. But this is broadly a bottom-up view, the book is interested in the workers, and those living in the margins, and when we touch the wealthy they are often sheltered and out of touch. Money is at the heart of everything here, the reason Ada Bunting goes to Panama, why the son is working on the canal, and there is a sense of living through poverty that Henriquez does not try to valorise, or pity, but just normalise for the time. It does not mean there is no pride, or honour, but it is a world where the smallest ownership of anything can make the difference in security.

None of the that should make you feel that The Great Divide is a polemic or dour. Instead its the best kind of story like this, opening up a world from 120 years ago and breathing life into it via these brief vignettes. Its also surprisingly short for the amount of characters and storylines it starts with, and with fifty pages to go I was concerned that it wasn't going to wrap up well (or be a PART 1), but Henriquez pulls everything together in a very satisfying manner for what turned out to be an impressively turn-paging bit of humane historical fiction.

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This is not my usual genre of book, I requested based on the description and a desire to take myself out of my comfort zone and try something new.
This book was a great choice, the story is based around creation of the Panama Canal and the lives who were impacted by it, the diverse characters and descriptive prose made this book a great read, it’s by no means fast paced but I believe that to be part of why I enjoyed it so much.

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The title of this book refers to the division of the country Panama, in South America, where the building of the Panama Canal practically split the country in half. This is a novel that has an unusual setting and one that I haven't come across before: the construction of one of the most significant canals in the world's history.

The cast of characters is diverse. They come from all kinds of backgrounds from the very poor to the very rich. Some arrive from other countries looking for work in this huge undertaking, some are local, one is a scientist looking into a cure for malaria. While the introductions to this broad list of people is fascinating, the exposition of their background makes the book quite slow in places. However, it does give an insight into the lives of people who were there, their motivations, expectations and ambitions.

​This historical fiction book uses the construction of the Panama Canal to highlight the other divisions between peoples in the nineteenth century: the wealthy and privileged Americans and the former slaves of the Caribbean, women and men, the healthy and the sick, the fishermen and the scientists, the colonials and the colonised, the boundary between life and death. The title, The Great Divide, is a thought provoking concept and a great title for this novel. Lovely book.

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I loved The Great Divide and all its characters even the unlikable one had their own role in the story so I accept them for their role. And the fact that it was based on one of the most magnificent constructions of the modern days it adds on more point. With plenty of details about the country Panama I felt like I was there. Due to its details I feel like it's a story to savour in order to feel like you're there with all the characters. You can't rush it otherwise you'll feel a bit lost but it's worth it. It talks about the construction of the Canal and its impact on everyone's lives from the locals to some people you might not expect but are in search of something. I love how it talks in details some aspects of the ordinary people and I love how it shows what it means to belong to something, somewhere. I feel like it's an amazing story and I am really happy to have read it.

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I enjoyed reading The Great Divide because it transported me to the time when the Panama Canal was being built. Unfortunately, I have very limited knowledge about this important part of world history, and I'm glad that this book made it possible for me to know more about it.

This book is a sweeping tale of interconnected characters whose lives were changed by the construction of the canal. I liked that the characters and their POVs are varied, which gave for a multi-faceted story. I also liked the setting and its description, it transported me to Panama in the beginning of the 20th century!

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction!

Thank you to Netgalley and 4th Estate for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

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My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers 4th Estate for this advance copy.

An inspirational subject: the building of the Panama Canal and the effects this wonder of the world made to linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The individuals came from different countries and different backgrounds, with the most memorable being Ada from Barbados arriving in Panama to find employment for medical care to help her sick sister back home, and Omar a Panamanian fisherman’s son who joins a labour team working on clearing the path for the canal. Despite all the hardships, the canal gets finished and the characters find happiness in the future.

The pace of the novel is slowed by descriptive detail and reminiscence, but even so it is a very readable book and contains historical references which are often overlooked.

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