Catching up with ... Cristina Henriquez

I first met Cristina Henriquez in 2007. I wanted to do a story on a new mom for the issue before Mother’s Day, and she fit the criteria. As often happens when interviewing Hinsdale residents, I discovered there was so much more to the story. In addition to giving birth to her daughter, Sofia, Cristina had published her first book of short stories and a novella the previous year.

Since that time, she has published three more novels. And her latest — “The Great Divide” — recently was selected as a Today Show Read with Jenna book club pick.

I was working from home the morning of March 4 with the Today show on in the background when I heard the announcement — and then saw Cristina on my TV screen.

“I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody,” Cristina told me last week. “I was sworn to secrecy. The only person who knew was my husband.”

Cristina was invited to appear in a taped segment for the show with Jenna and another author she has long admired.

“I got to go to New York and hang out with (Jenna) and Sandra Cisneros. She is one of my heroes, so it was a nice full circle moment to get to do that with her,” Cristina said.

“The Great Divide” is about a cast of characters who are living through the time in the early 1900s when the Panama Canal is being built. Cristina, who described the book as very personal, said she has been working on it for five years.

“I had the idea to write this book long before that — for 15 years before I put pen to paper,” she said. “It was just a special book for me.

“I always wanted to write a novel about the Panama Canal,” she added. “I grew up going to the canal. When I was a kid and we were going to visit my family there, my parents would take us out to the canal. We would just sit there and watch ships go through.”

Although many nonfiction books have been written about the canal, Cristina wanted to imagine what the time was like for an ordinary person living through it.

“As a novelist, that what’s always interesting to me. I’m always trying to understand humanity or human behavior and motivation. When you start to delve into the character’s deepest fears or their sacrifices or their hopes for things, that’s when it gets really interesting,” she said.

The stories of those imagined individuals are set in a carefully researched world. Cristina traveled to Panama to visit libraries and museums and interview scholars who live there. Last August she spent seven hours on a small tugboat traveling through the canal, an experience she truly enjoyed.

“Every new thing, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Gold Hill, that’s Contractor’s Hill,’ seeing the things I had researched and learned about,” she said.

She also found help with the novel much closer to home.

“I could not have done it without the librarians at the Hinsdale Public Library. They helped me tremendously with my research,” she said. “They were pulling books from all over the country and having them sent here.”

Cristina will be back at the library April 9, talking about her new book with fellow Hinsdale writer Susan Blumberg-Kason. For more information, visit

She’ll also be back on the Today show for a live segment Tuesday, March 26.

“I’m excited/terrified about it, but it should be really fun,” she said.

She said she still can’t quite believe the publicity her book is getting. Almost 2 million viewers watch Today with Hoda & Jenna.

“It’s one of those things that authors dream of happening for their book,” she said. “I’m still processing that it happened for mine.”

Or that writing is her career.

“I’m just happy to do what I get to do every day,” she said. “It’s such a dream.”

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers

can email her at

[email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean