Travelling light in Imelda-land
The Last Time I Saw Mother by Arlene J. Chai Headline Review, pounds 16.99
Chai's novel is distinguished firstly by her genuine talent for popular fiction. Her writing is both quick and smooth: characters are instantly identifiable to us by thumbnail description and lively dialogue that possesses the easy grace and instant recognisability of the cinema. "Travel light," says a cousin to the main character, Caridad, towards the end of the story. "Don't be like Ligaya [another main character], she carries too much baggage." It is almost as if the author has applied this dictum to her own writing. This is a light book, in the best sense.
The story unfolds skilfully. The exact nature of Caridad's secret and its place in a rainbow of lives is told through a relay race of female narrators: each one picks up the baton of the story where the other left off. Yet each character/ storyteller emerges complete in herself. From Caridad's "mother", the rigid, unbending Thelma, we learn of the private pain and social discomfort of infertility. From Emma, her sister, we glimpse a mirror image of life's possibilities: too many children and not enough money. From Ligaya, a sister/cousin, we hear of compromises of the soul. But in all these women there is a stoic and moving acceptance of their fate.
There is also a lively and anguished insight into the history of the modern Philippines. How many of us know anything substantial about the Philippines beyond tales of Imelda Marcos's 3,000 shoes or Cory Aquino's assumption of the mantle of her dead husband? Here we are given not only the story of the Japanese occupation and associated hardships, but a telling portrait of the tensions and possibilities of a country founded on Chinese, Filipino and Spanish heritage and traditions.
Chai now lives in Australia. But The Last Time I Saw Mother chiefly resembles the grand, mainly female, narratives currently so popular in the States, as seen in the work of Terry McMillan, Amy Tan herself or Maxine Hong Kingston. Like these authors, Chai puts the exotic in a vernacular we can all understand: totally recognisable yet appealingly foreign. There is no hidden political agenda, however soft, as there might be in an Alice Walker novel. This is story- telling, pure and simple.
Its only main fault is sentimentality - or perhaps that's its virtue. For if Chai is lucky, she will, like Tan and McMillan, vault one day into movieland. And since Imelda's 3,000 shoes do make an appearance in her novel, it guarantees future headaches for some Hollywood prop executive.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
musicPolice chief rejects rappers' claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
healthJames Bond's alcohol consumption puts him at 'high risk' of cirrhosis, tremors... and impotence
Beatles rush out 'bootleg' album to defy EU copyright law
Harvey Weinstein reveals his secret weapon on-set
Now that an oil trader's drinking has got him sacked, will we all have to make do with an afternoon latte?
Arts & Ents blogs
Jack Whitehall crowned king of British Comedy Awards
American Psycho , theatre review: Matt Smith regenerates as ripped uber-narcissist
MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 - Steven Edwards, Adam Handling and Scott Davies are the final three
MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 - Steven Edwards crowned winner
Kanye West is as 'misguided as they come': Ohio police chief rejects rapper's claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
- 1 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 2 Italian court annuls prison sentence for elderly paedophile after 11-year-old victim tells investigators in Catanzaro that she loves him
- 3 Australia incest case: Deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 4 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram
- 5 Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- < Previous
- Next >