“Reminiscent of Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street with its lyrical voice and tender narrator, At the Narrow Waist of the World is a gorgeously vivid memoir that blends the Spanish of the author’s native home and the English of her adopted country to describe the weight of events and a larger-than-life mother who confounds psychiatrists and family alike. The book pulses like a constellation in the night sky.”

— Jimin Han, author of A Small Revolution

“In this lyrical chronicle about a girl growing up Jewish in Panama, we learn from Marlena Baraf that it is possible to live on that narrow edge between countries, languages, and spiritual homes.”

— Ruth Behar, author of Lucky Broken Girl, and An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba

“No fanfare, no pyrotechnics. Life-changing decisions explained in humble, passionate ways. Simple words for simple actions. A lesson in literary moderation.”

— Ilan Stavans, author of On Borrowed Words


I am an immigrant American who's fallen into the soup. I love words that illustrate different perspectives. Hybrid. Hyphenated. Bilingual. Multicultural. Blend. Compound. Synthesis.

My memoir, At the Narrow Waist of the World, shows the incredible power community and families of any size can have in sustaining young people. It's about pulling away from a troubled mother, leaving home and country, and discovering the wider world.

Explore my published essays or my blog.