As rain drums on our roofs and soaks our gardens and city pavements, it’s best to stay indoors curled up on a comfy couch with a hot drink and a good book. For the busy ones, short stories are a good option to fill those few quiet moments snatched from between work and chores.
Here are a couple of interesting collections that will make your rainy day.
This slim volume by R. Kwan Laurel, who has taught literature and creative writing in various universities, is a collection of tales set in the Binondo area that tell us more about the lives and preoccupations of Chinese in the Philippines.
Laurel has a facility for dialogue. His stories are composed of conversations that move the storyline along and sometimes impart wisdom and truths gained, as most such lessons are, through experience and hard knocks.
The characters in Laurel’s Ongpin are marked by racism, on their part and that of Filipinos who consider them the ‘other;’ the sorrow of having lost loved ones in China due to war and sickness; the ache of trying to find their place in a country that is not theirs; and their strong resilience, patience, and determination to make new lives.
Giat Co, newly arrived in Quezon, muses about the first time he saw a Mass being said: “I did not understand. I must admit that I still do not. But I do not ridicule what I do not understand. It may take years, I had told myself, but one day I will understand this country. This is what I believed in: to achieve in life you must keep trying.”
These stories are small slices of life taken from the narratives of a community that has for centuries survived and suffered the fortunes and misfortunes of the Philippines. It gives a clear look at the “enclave that is Binondo,” at the unshakeable influence of China over the immigrants who “came to the Philippines because they said the streets here were paved with gold,” and their love-hate relationship with the country that is their new home and eventually claims the loyalties of their children and grandchildren.
Revelatory and authentic, these stories are couched in clear language that pulls the reader in and offers them a cup of tea as these family-oriented, homely narratives unfold.
Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
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
By R. Kwan Laurel
2021, 104 pgs, pb, Milflores Publishing
Selected Short Stories
By Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
2021, 266 pgs, tpb, UST Publishing House