Category Archives: Filipino/a

People Are Strange: Stories by Eric Gamalinda

Eric Gamalinda and I overlapped in New York City in the 1990s, when I knew (of) him more as a poet. I should know better (blame it on youth!) than to label him by genre, because clearly Gamalinda is a multi-faceted writer (as well as a playwright, filmmaker, photographer, and more): he was shortlisted for the big-deal 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel The Descartes Highlands (which doesn’t seem to be available Stateside), and won the Philippine Centennial Literary Prize (which, according to his bio, is “the highest award ever given to a Filipino writer”), as well as the Philippine National Book Award. Gamalinda’s new collection makes a complementary companion to Lysley Tenorio‘s remarkable debut, Monstress, which hit shelves in February; both offer eight contemporary stories that draw on the authors’ shared Filipino heritage and their hybrid identities as foreign-born writers living and creating on the other side of the world.

Out this month, People Are Strange includes six stories which have been previously published elsewhere. The oldest (publication history-wise) is the bittersweet “Fear of Heights,” which appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1995, about a fortune-teller who shares “a few trade secrets,” crashing puns intended. The most recent is the entertainingly ironic “Famous Literary Frauds” which ran in the winter/spring 2011 issue of the Asian American Literary Reviewin which a Filipino writer can only get published in the guise of his beautiful, young student who becomes a high-wattage literary celebrity with the writer’s works.

Of the two unpublished-before stories, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” – which is the collection’s final and most personal piece – focuses on the history of a familial Jesus, Gamalinda’s grandfather, who died more than three decades before Gamalinda was born. [For some reason, I felt compelled to google my way through the story: I admit knowing the 'real'-ness of Gamalinda's relatives, his grandfather's Philippines Supreme Court Justice-mentor, his grandfather's law firm, etc. added a satisfying poignancy.] Through the “pleasure of storytelling,” Gamalinda reconstructs the personal story of a man he never knew – and the other-worldly pact he made with two close friends before he died.

Gamalinda’s ‘strange people’ – an adopted Marcos “son,” a dead man sending emails to his ex-wife, the Elvis of Manila, a fictional Eric Gamalinda who can change skin color at will, a murderous fly-killer – are all feats of imaginative invention, albeit with varying degrees of curious behaviors, characteristics, choices. Their strangeness ultimately makes them more uniquely human, each searching for connection in a disjointed, scattered world.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

As we head into the holiday weekend, here’s a debut novel to help you celebrate … Tall Story is as multi-layered as its clever title, filled with adventure, magic realism, a dual family saga thousands of miles apart, not to mention one heck of a basketball game!

Andi and Bernardo are half-siblings who at first couldn’t be more unlike. Andi is tiny, “barely a teenager” at 13, lives in London with her Filipino mother and her British father, and dreams of playing point guard on her school basketball team. She’s met her older brother just once. Bernardo is 16, has lived his entire life in a small village in the Philippines where he was raised by an aunt and uncle. Mum Mary Ann, suddenly widowed with an infant, moved to London to take the one job that might help pay off the “gazillions” she owed in hospital bills. Her intention was to send for Bernardo as soon as she was settled, but life didn’t work out that way … while she waited 16 years for Bernardo’s immigration papers, she married Andi’s father and had Andi, but visited as often as she could.

Now Bernardo is finally reunited with his family in London. And Andi had no clue that her big brother would turn out to be 8 feet TALL. The medical term for his condition is Gigantism, but Bernardo has grown up with enchanted legends and frightening curses that explain his height otherwise … and he’s plagued by guilt for leaving his Filipino family and friends behind. The initial reunion isn’t exactly easy, and Andi can’t help but be disappointed that her Velcro-suited, socks-with-size-22-sandals-garbed big brother is so different from what she had expected, wished for, dreamed about …

Told in alternating chapters by both siblings, Tall Story is one of those heart-thumping, sigh-inducing tales that will infuse you with just the right glowing satisfaction as you turn that final page. From crumbling ceilings to magic stones to rabid dogs to sleeping giants to a surprising rogue teacher willing to break a few rules, Candy Gourlay has definitely concocted one remarkable tall story that just might make you believe in magic. Slam dunk ahead!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2011

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Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman

In the book’s opening pages, the “Authors’ Note,” explains the title – ‘tears in the darkness’ is a literal translation of the Japanese kanji for anrui, “the kind of pain and sorrow that, literally, cannot be seen.” But beyond the explanation is a warning against war: “It is true that some men – men of greed, ambition, or raw animus – love war, but most, the overwhelming number who are forced to bear arms, come home from the killing fields and prison camps with anrui, ‘tears in the darkness.’”

The New York University husband-and-wife professor team of Norman and Norman spent 10 years researching on three continents – the U.S., the Philippines, and Japan – to create this historical tome that ultimately feels like an overwhelmingly convincing treatise against war.

At the center of some 450 pages of tragic history is Ben Steele, a young cowboy from rural Montana who enlisted in the army on his mother’s advice. He thought he might like to go to California, might like to see the world; not yet 23, Steele became a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps in October 1940. A year later, Steele was stationed in Manila, Philippines … where his odyssey of deprivation, starvation, and torture would begin. In April 1942, the U.S. lost control of the Philippine Islands to the Japanese Army, forcing 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers to surrender, and marking the single largest defeat in U.S. military history. Only a fraction of those prisoners would be alive at war’s end.

Remarkably, against all odds, Steele survived the Bataan Death March, the degrading prisons, transfer via slave ships to Japan, and slave work camps … all while weakened by starvation, disease, dehydration, beatings, and endless hard labor. He watched too many around him die, tortured, lost, murdered, and abandoned. Words cannot describe what Steele endured, and the miracle of how he came home, and learned to live life again as a caring, nurturing, lucky human being.

Weaving detailed World War II facts and history with Steele’s personal stories, the Normans also give voice to the so-called ‘enemy,’ offering substantial testimonies of Japanese soldiers and officers, who were also victims of an unforgiving system of brutal patriotic loyalty.

The Normans continue to follow Steele’s life decades after the war, most poignantly including his experience as an art professor to a young Japanese American student whose parents spent World War II in U.S. prison camps by order of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 which imprisoned some 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent without due process. Decades after the death and destruction, student and teacher learn to make a lasting peace.

A note of advice: Tears is a book to be read, not listened to. The paper book includes dozens of haunting sketches made by Ben Steele that memorialize his experiences – and through the decades, helped him stay sane (and human). These certainly should not be missed.

To listen, alas, proves to be a painful experience, not for the book’s graphic dehumanizing content which is certainly difficult in any form, but because of the annoyance over what can only be labeled as irresponsible laziness. Again, why can’t a recording team call ONE native speaker of a non-English language to get the proper, consistent pronunciation of foreign words? Millions of people speak Japanese. Millions speak Tagalog and other Filipino dialects. Okay, maybe TWO phone calls??!!

With the achingly detailed translation work the Professor Normans did across the world (in Japan alone, they had a “nearly flawless” simultanous translator on site, and then had the recorded interviews/translations checked back in the U.S. by a doctoral candidate and NYU Japanese instructor!), they must be cringing at the recorded version of their decade-long efforts! So skip the 17-plus-hour commitment … do make sure to pick up the real book instead.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Nonfiction, Filipino/a, Japanese, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian

Mayor of the Roses: Stories by Marianne Villanueva

Mayor of the RosesA masterful collection of loosely intertwined short stories from the author of the critically-acclaimed Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila which captures the immigrant life lived in between – not quite at home in the old country, and painfully awkward in the new. From the unflinching title story about a mayor on trial for instigating the gang-rape of a local beauty queen, to the portrait of an abandoned wife in Silicon Valley, to the lives of three children after the death of their Filipina mother, Roses is a startling mix of sadness and hope, disappointment and exploration, of loss and commitment.

Review: “New and Notable Books, AsianWeek, April 7, 2005

Tidbit: Marianne Villanueva was one of our delightful Smithsonian APA Program guests for “Filipino American Literary Writers” on December 8, 2006.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

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The Disinherited by Han Ong + Author Interview [in The Bloomsbury Review]

disinheritedGenius Han Ong: The Outsider American

Han Ong, who made international headlines as one of the MacArthur Foundation’s elite Genius Grant recipients of 1997, refers to his second novel, The Disinherited, as his “imagined homecoming” to the Philippines. Ong left his native country 20 years ago at age 16, and he has yet to return. He thought he might go back a few years ago, poetically marking 16 years in his native country and 16 years in his new country. But there was that little matter of the passport – he has yet to claim his U.S. citizenship. “Basically, my understanding of the [citizenship] process is that it’s cumbersome. And fundamentally, I’m just really lazy,” he laughs. “I’m pretty sure that I would be considered American and an outsider if I went back,” he adds.

Like Ong, the protagonist of The Disinherited is an outsider all around. Roger Caracera is the American black sheep of his prominent Filipino/Spanish family, the youngest child who lacks the ambition and accumulated status of his two older siblings. Shocked to be left half a million dollars by his estranged father, Caracera, a 44-year-old deadbeat as his extended family considers him, decides to stay in the Philippines after his father’s funeral in order to give away what he believes is ill-gotten wealth. In his quest to purge his inheritance, he learns that so-called charity is sometimes only in the eyes of the beholder. …[click here for more]

Author interview: The Bloomsbury Review, January/February 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004

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The Disinherited by Han Ong + Author Interview [in AsianWeek]

disinheritedReturning to the Real World After the MacArthur Grant

Han Ong, who made international headlines as one of the MacArthur Foundation’s elite “Genius Grant” recipients of 1997, refers to his second novel, The Disinherited, as his “imagined homecoming” to the Philippines. Ong left his native country 20 years ago at age 16, and he has yet to return there. He thought he might go back four years ago, poetically marking 16 years in his native country and 16 years in his new country. But there was that little matter of the passport back then – he still has to claim his U.S. citizenship. “Basically, my understanding of the [citizenship] process is that it’s cumbersome. And fundamentally, I’m just really lazy,” he laughed. “I’m pretty sure that I would be considered American and an outsider if I went back,” he added.

Like Ong, the protagonist of The Disinherited is an outsider all around – Roger Caracera is the American black sheep of his prominent Filipino/Spanish family, the youngest child who lacks the ambition and accumulated status of his two older siblings. Shocked to be left half a million dollars by his estranged father, Caracera, considered by his extended family to be a 44-year-old deadbeat, decides to stay in the Philippines after his father’s funeral in order to give away what he believes is ill-gotten wealth. In his quest to purge his inheritance, he learns that so-called charity is sometimes only in the eyes of the beholder.

AsianWeek: How did The Disinherited come about?
Han Ong: The first 100 pages were a false start – it turned out I was writing background to the [Roger Caracera] character. The book is about a sleepy man awakened by death – that’s the basic thumbnail sketch. And I made discoveries along the way – that he’s from a wealthy family, that his father had died, that he disliked his family. Everything converged on this scene that he’s going to be given a lot of money, and he’s going to refuse it.

AW: How much of Caracera is based on where you think you might be in 10 years?
HO: I hope I’m not anything like him! But part of the writing process is how willing you are to spend time in the company of someone you don’t totally identify with. I spent two years with these people – and some of them are definitely not companionable. Writing about them has to be worth overcoming a certain discomfort because the story is compelling and worth being committed to the page. I think [Roger’s] criticisms of the Philippines, as well as his realization of the Western exploitation of places like the Philippines, are very valid. He is ultimately very clear about that, and I think that’s admirable. …[click here for more]

Author interview: “Returning to the Real World After the MacArthur Grant: Genius Han Ong returns to writing and pursuing citizenship,” AsianWeek, September 10, 2004

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004

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The Caprices by Sabina Murray + Author Profile

capricesWriting from a Different Place: A Profile of 2003 PEN/Faulkner Award Winner Sabina Murray

When Sabina Murray first heard that she had won the prestigious 2003 PEN/Faulkner Award for her short story collection The Caprices, she thought a mistake had been made. Not until the house began to rapidly fill with flowers and e-mails arrived from around the world did she realize that “this was a big deal.”

With a major award in hand, Murray is looking at her career through new eyes: “Everything just feels different. Before, I felt like what I was writing wouldn’t necessarily get read. Now, it’s not that everything I write will be embraced, but I feel like there will be readers out there for my work, and that’s a very different place for me from which to write.”

That different place, post-PEN/Faulkner, has become literal, with a recent move to a house in Amherst – the first that Murray and her poet husband, John Hennessey, have bought, where they are finally feeling settled with their two young sons. “I feel so grown-up,” she laughs. In this new domicile, Murray waxes about her study, her “room of one’s own,” which is just off the porch and secluded so as to be “nice and quiet.”

The move was precipitated by a new teaching gig as an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I have a real job with grad students,” she says with true joy. “Before, I had great high school students to teach at Phillips Academy, Andover, where I was writer-in-residence, but now I’m meeting people who are just on the brink of their careers, and that’s very exciting.” …[click here for more]

Author profile: “Writing from a Different Place: A Profile of 2003 PEN/Faulkner Award Winner Sabina Murray,” The Bloomsbury Review, January/February 2004

Tidbit: The inventive Sabina Murray, together with the wonderful Jessica Hagedorn and Helen Zia, was a guest for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program‘s “Contemporary Asian American Writers” public program on September 29, 2004.

Readers: Adults

Published: 2002

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Dream Jungle by Jessica Hagedorn + Author Interview

Dream JungleHer Bum Is on Fire: Jessica Hagedorn debuts with her latest novel

After years of chatting on the phone and sending various e-mails back and forth, I finally got the chance to meet writer extraordinaire Jessica Hagedorn. With her classic coming-of-age debut novel, Dogeaters, her compilation of Asian Pacific American writings, Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, which she edited, her various plays and her multimedia performance pieces – not to mention her inspiring politics – Hagedorn has long been recognized as both a leader and a mentor at the forefront of Asian Pacific America.

On that recent Sunday morning in New York City, we finally came face-to-face in front of a closed bubble tea salon. She greets me with open arms, and she’s as warm, energetic, passionate, and downright entertaining as I expected. No bubble green tea just yet. (A few months back, she actually sent me an entire list of the best bubble tea salons throughout lower Manhattan). Instead, we settled on a nearby Japanese restaurant.

“The cast and crew hung out here almost every day when we were doing Dogeaters at the Public [Theater],” Hagedorn comments, referring to the much-lauded stage production of her classic novel, directed by Michael Greif, he of Rent fame. In between bites, I grilled her about her much anticipated new novel, Dream Jungle, which debuts this week.

In Dream Jungle, Hagedorn uses part history – she intertwines the alleged discovery of an ancient “lost tribe” in the remote hills of the Philippines with the problematic filming of Apocalypse Now – intermixed with memories from her own life to create a tense, taut work of fiction that encompasses everything from the legacy of colonialism, class struggles, family relationships, and responsibilities to the inevitable love story (of sorts).

AsianWeek: So where did find your initial inspiration for Dream Jungle?
Jessica Hagedorn: It was the death of a man. I don’t read the paper every day, but on one particular day, I happened to be come across an article in The New York Times about the death of Manuel Elizalde Jr., who was a very colorful figure I remembered from my childhood in the Philippines. Our families knew each other. I actually just wrote about this for a recent issue of Time Asia [www.time.com/time/asia/2003/journey/philippines.html]. The scene in the book in which Paz [a Filipino American journalist who returns to her native Philippines to cover a story for an American publication] goes to talk to Zamora [Dream Jungle’s fictionalized version of Elizalde] is actually autobiographical. I was at my mother’s house in San Francisco decades ago, and at the time, Elizalde was on The Dick Cavett Show, I think. My mother said to me, “Do you believe this? He’s still being looked at as a heroic man!” Reading the Times article, I remembered all that, and eventually wrote a pitch for Dream Jungle. …[click here for more]

Author Interview: “Her Bum Is on Fire: Jessica Hagedorn debuts with her latest novel,” AsianWeek, September 26, 2003

Tidbit: The fabulous MIZZ Hagedorn was a guest, together with the equally wonderful Sabina Murray and Helen Zia, for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program‘s “Contemporary Asian American Writers” public program on September 29, 2004.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

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The Caprices by Sabina Murray + Author Interview

capricesLiving With War

When Sabina Murray heard she had won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for her short story collection The Caprices, she was so surprised that she hardly believed it. Not until the house began to rapidly fill with flowers and e-mails arrived from around the world did she realize that “this was a big deal,” she laughs.

Born in Lancaster, Penn., to a white father and Filipina mother, and raised in Australia and the Philippines, Murray returned to the United States to do her undergrad at Mt. Holyoke and get a master’s at the University of Texas at Austin. When her school days were over, Murray “tried a lot of crazy things,” she says. She sold clothes, shoes, and greeting cards. She was a booking agent for a modeling agency, then tried cocktail waitressing which proved to be “disastrous,” she
confesses.

All along, Murray, 34, knew she wanted to be a writer. “Writing is just a part of my personality,” she says. Even as she was selling balloons at the Old Port Festival in Portland, she was gracing the pages of Vanity Fair for writing her first novel, Slow Burn, about the decadent youth of 1980s Manila, all before she turned 21.

Six years later, she began what would become The Caprices, which captures the brutal effects of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. In this case, the rest is literally literary history.

AsianWeek: How did The Caprices come about?
Sabina Murray: It was a long process. I wrote the first story, “Intramuros,” in 1996 and then “Walkabout” a year-and-a-half later. The third story came a year after that, followed by a fourth. I sold the book with those four stories, with the Pacific Campaign as the unifying concept. I wrote the last five after the book sold. It came out in January 2002 and until then, I felt like I was working on it all the time, even though I was doing other things. …[click here for more]

Author interview: “Living with War: PEN/Faulkner Winner Sabina Murray,” AsianWeek, May 23, 2003

Tidbit: The inventive Sabina Murray, together with the wonderful Jessica Hagedorn and Helen Zia, was a guest for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program‘s “Contemporary Asian American Writers” public program on September 29, 2004.

Readers: Adults

Published: 2002

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Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History by Catherine Ceniza Choy

Empire of CareSince the lifting of immigration laws in 1965, the U.S. medical work force has had huge support from growing numbers of Filipino-trained medical staff arriving on U.S. shores, especially Filipino nurses. Choy explores the notion that a legacy of U.S. imperialism has produced generations of nurses trained specifically in the ways of American medicine, who are then strongly encouraged to immigrate to the West, even to the detriment of their home medical system.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, March 28, 2003

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Filipino/a, Filipino/a American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American