Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Book Review of Cecilia Brainard's Selected Short Stories



Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House (2021; available at Lazada & Shopee

and PALH (2021); available at Amazon 

Review by Jenny Ortuoste

From "Short Stories to Lull You on Rainy Days" (Manila Standard, Lifestyle , 7/30/22)


In these stories written and published over several decades, Brainard, a native of Cebu who migrated to the U.S. over half a century ago, explores her life experiences as a Filipino and Filipino American, as well as the entangled history of both countries.


This collection of 39 stories is grouped into three sections: Part 1 is set in her fictional world of Ubec, which mirrors Cebu; Part 2 is located in Manila, Vigan, Sagada, and Negros Oriental; Part 3 is set in Paris, the U.S., and other parts of the world.

Some of the stories are intertwined and make me wonder, what if they had been expanded into a novel-of-stories? Part 1’s “Woman with Horns,” “Trinidad’s Brooch,” and “The Balete Tree” are stories that feature the same characters but focusing on a different one each time, giving wide and resonant perspectives of the lives of the people in that time and community.

In Part 2, the lush details of “Vigan” and “The Rice Field” bring to life an ancient town and old ways of living amid the Marcos era. From the latter, it’s information like this, scattered throughout the stories in this book, that brings tradition alive:

“…she led me to the kitchen where she took out an antique copper chocolate pot. She rummaged in the cupboard for chocolate tablets…made from the fattest cocoa beans.[…] She melted the chocolate, whipped in fresh milk and sugar, and she poured two cups…” Doesn’t this remind you of the “chocolate eh, chocolate ah” passage in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere? What a comforting thing to read on a rainy day.

Brainard’s deft handling of human emotion and responses to events and people is apparent in these stories that are like time machines as they are set in different periods of Philippine history, from the Spanish colonial to World War II and after. Mostly threaded through with themes of love and longing, they end with a melancholy coda that leaves a bittersweet taste.

Well-written and hypnotic, these tales are a grand display of Brainard’s storytelling and word-weaving skills that only get better with time.

For comments and feedback, you may reach the author on Facebook and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Tags: Filipino short stories, Filipino literature, Filipino books, Philippine books, Philippine short stories 

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