Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Fiction by Filipinos in America, edited by Cecilia Brainard, reviewed by World Literature Today

FICTION BY FILIPINOS IN AMERICA edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
published by New Day Publishers, paper, ISBN 97110-0528X

Available in eBook from Kindle  
Review by World Literature Today, Autumn 1994 v68 n4 p894(1)
COPYRIGHT 1994 University of Oklahoma
The stories in Fiction by Filipinos in America, as editor Cecilia Manguerra Brainard puts it, "deal with oppression, flight, dislocation, unrequited love, longing for an idealized home; these are stories of humans dominated by values that run deep, of fierce loyalty for family and friends, and always that Filipino tenacity to deal with life's hardships and remain undefeated. Together these stories paint a gigantic picture of the Filipino, whether in the Philippines or in America, and it is a wonderful picture, this of a person who struggles, fails at times, but keeps on, a most resilient human being." Resilience is a quality long associated with Filipinos. As a poet once said," A Filipino is pliant like a bamboo." Neither typhoons nor monsoons could break the Filipino spirit; like the bamboo, it sways and bends with nature's relentless onslaughts, but it refuses to yield or die.

Manguerra Brainard's selection is a delight. Some of the stories are masterly, especially those written by such old reliables as Carlos Bulosan, Linda Ty-Casper, N. V. M. Gonzales, Bienvenido N. Santos, and Alberto S. Florentino. None is less than highly competent, and all are worth reading. Manguerra Brainard has done an excellent job of mixing critical judgment with personal taste. What her choices prove is that most Filipinos who write competently in English have either lived in America for a long time or were actually born, raised, and educated here. These are writers to whom English is almost a first language. It would surprise no one if these writers' command of Pilipino is inferior to their command of English.

Bulosan is at his most poignant in "The Romance of Magno Rubio," a tale of love and romance that subtly condemns those who take advantage of the good-hearted, the poor, and the ignorant. "A Warm Hand" by N. V. M. Gonzales superbly displays the innocence of the Filipino; it is not the story itself that impresses, however, but the writer's mastery of the short story, his stunning perfection of form. And who else but Bienvenido N. Santos can portray an expatriate's yearning for his idealized native land? In "Scent of Apples" Santos brilliantly delineates the touching tale of a Filipino farmer in America nostalgic for home and his own people; it is undoubtedly one of the most moving short stories in contemporary literature. Like Somerset Maugham, Santos seems to have an extraordinary sense of the hidden loneliness in others.

The excerpts from novels--Manguerra Brainard's own "Doc's Crucifixion" (from Song of Yvonne) and "The President's Wife Has a Dream" by Jessica Hagedorn (from Dog-eaters)--make one want to read the authors' books. Hagedorn's brave defiance of conventional rules of writing is both refreshing and startling. The not-so-well-known other writers in the collection are all promising, and given the time, they could surprise us with their talent. They all tell a quintessentially Filipino story and a story for our day and age.

The last entry, the shortest item in the lot (forty-one lines), is a surrealist dream, "Phalaenopsis," the tale of an expatriate Filipino who ties himself to an oak tree, slowly loses his human form, and becomes a full-grown orchid. The story is a fitting finale to a most thorough and compelling account of the Filipino culture and soul, for the Filipino is an enigma, a true child of the earth with an artist's sensibility. Manguerra Brainard's collection is a book that pulls the reader along inexorably. Each of the stories in this volume makes it impossible for the reader to stop reading,

Al Camus Palomar University of Oklahoma

Tags: Philippines, literature, young adults, book, #PhilippineLiterature

Read also
Book Review: Magdalena, novel by Cecilia Brainard, reviewed by Eileen Tabios
Book Review: Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, Edited by Cecilia Brainard, reviewed by Harold Augenbraum
Book Review: Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, edited by Cecilia Brainard, reviewed by Manoa
Book Review: Vigan and Other Stories, by Cecilia Brainard, reviewed by Allen Gaborro
Book Reveiw: Finding God: True Stories of Spiritual Encounters, Eds Brainard & Orosa
Book Review: Journey of 100 Years: Reflections on the Centennial of Philippine Independence, Eds Brainard & Litton

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