Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review Cecilia Brainard's Woman with Horns and Other Stories by World Literature Today

I'm sharing this review of my first short story collection, by Doreen Fernandez published by World Literature Today.

World Literature Today, Spring 1989
Book Review by Doreen G. Fernandez, Ateneo de Manila University

Woman With Horns and Other Stories
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Published by New Day Publishers 1987, softcover, 96 pages

Women are at the center of the twelve stories in Woman with Horns, stories that are linked, occasionally by character or incident, always by sensibility. Hailing from Ubec--Cebu (both island and city) read backward literally, and also in time and memory -- they are women of strength, filled with a native sense of the life-and-death continuum.

Agustina, widowed little more than a year, amazes the also-widowed American doctor with her vitality and life-sense. Trinidad, a foundling, ages in her ache for her parents and is healed by laughter and children. Marta finds a magic spring in the forest as well as an understanding of herself and the Other. The child Milagros feels life in the undercurrents of a household, Remedios in her father's funeral. Ligaya has stopped praying because of wondering how a man's kiss and body would feel. Old Tecla lost her sons and husband in the Japanese war and brings back a miracle while praying for one. Gemma, anxious about looks and crushes in the sixties, find maturity and magic in feeling for another.  In "The Discovery" the first-person narrator weaves understanding from the emotional textures of a homecoming.

Oldest in time are two healers. In 1763, at the time of the British invasion of Manila, Alba succors a woman in childbirth and is cleansed of rancor.  In "1521" Old Healer has a dream of the white men drawing up her people in their fishing nets; she witnesses Lapu-Lapu and his warriors killing Magellan and the armed Spaniards, then honoring them "who after all fought fiercely. This was also proof to the remaining strangers that although islanders were gentle, they knew how to fight." The only story without women is set in 1901, when an old general nearing death and defeat kills an American soldier, who dies exclaiming "Sara!" Thinking of the boy's mother and Sara, he gives the soldier the dignity of a river burial.

The author, through deep woman-knowledge, makes the stories into one web, weaving events (folkloric, historical, contemporary) and people through sensibility rather than structure, drawing the reader into the loom of history and fiction, to read all life as one unity.

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