Monday, June 19, 2017

World Literature Review of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's Magdalena

by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
published by Plain View Press
Austin, Texas. Plain View. 2002. 164 pages.ISBN 1-891386-29-8

Philippine Edition of Magdalena, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2016
Available in eBook from from Kindle

 Review by World Literature Today
Copyright 2003 by World Literature Today

World Literature Today, April-June 2003 v77 i1 p100(2)

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. Magdalena. Book Review by Kathleen Flanagan.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2003 University of Oklahoma

CECILIA MANGUERRA BRAINARD'S novel Magdalena takes its title from a protagonist descended from several generations of equally compelling female characters. Brainard's earlier novel When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (1994) employed the viewpoint of an adolescent girl to recount the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II. With Magdalena Brainard uses a nonlinear narrative and multiple points of view to describe the history of the Philippines that roughly corresponds to its contact with the United States from the Spanish-American War to the war in Vietnam. Magdalena begins and ends with the perspective of Juana, daughter of the title character and her American lover (a POW in Vietnam), who is herself pregnant and curious about her family history. Letters, diaries, and narratives from numerous characters help Juana reconstruct her maternal and, to a lesser extent, paternal lineage.

Stories of the women in Magdalena's family are woven together to demonstrate the dependency of the present on the events of the past. Magdalena's grandfather, a Filipino nationalist who fought the American military after the Spanish-American War, writes in his journal, "There must be two Americas, one that sets the captive free and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on, then kills him to get his land." Such interactions with the United States, and similar earlier experiences with Spain, emphasize the importance of power to some characters, who reject love matches for marriages with financial and social advantages. The broken romances of Magdalena's mother and grandmothers affect their treatment of their daughters, just as the entwined histories of the United States and the Philippines throw into relief the American involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s setting of the novel.

Magdalena's absent American lover, Nathan Spenser, is portrayed through old letters as well as through segments describing the activities of his country in the Philippines. One of his remaining letters explains the patriotic impulses that led him to enlist but also records his disillusionment with the American war in Vietnam. Spenser's early idealism is juxtaposed with descriptions such as that of a U.S. colonel who gives a speech at a newly opened child-care center for prostitutes' children, many of whom are half-American, and begins to see Filipinos as more than "hearts and minds" to be won in support of the effort to spread American democracy in Asia.

The novel brings into focus not only the romantic and social conflicts of different generations of women but also economic and racial divisions in the Philippines. Magdalena's great-grandfather on her father's side is an immigrant from China, and his daughter finds it difficult to enter the highest levels of Philippine society, just as lower economic and social standing make it difficult for Magdalena's irascible mother, Luisa, to marry the man she loves. Interspersed throughout the novel are archival photographs of places and people, photographs that remind the reader that while the characters are fictional, the backdrop is historical reality.

Kathleen Flanagan

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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