The Last Time I Saw Motherby Arlene J. Chai
The New York Times Book Review
Caridad's mother never writes. So when a letter arrives for her in Sydney from Manila, Caridad doesn't even recognize her mother's handwriting.
"AN OFTEN LYRICAL AND ALWAYS TOUGH-MINDED DEBUT . . . Provides rare insight into the three culturesSpanish, Chinese, and Filipinothat coexist in the Philippines."
The New York Times Book Review
Caridad's mother never writes. So when a letter arrives for her in Sydney from Manila, Caridad doesn't even recognize her mother's handwriting. There is more distance than just miles between the two women. And that is why Caridad is called home. Her mother needs to talk. And to reveal a secret that has been weighing heavily on her for years.
As Caridad hears at last the unspoken stories, and the never forgotten tragedy of the war years, she will learn a startling truth that will change her life forever. For Caridad is not who she thinks she is. . . .
"Beautifully written . . . Reading each chapter is like having a conversation with a close friend."
"A sensitive . . . portrait of a family of Filipina women . . . The novel illuminates much modern Philippine history."
The Boston Globe
Like her 30ish protagonist Caridad, Chai (who was born in Manila) has Chinese parents and a cultural heritage that is as much Chinese as Spanish and Filipinoa heritage that makes for a pleasingly textured novel, though at times the insertion of local color seems forced. Now living in Australia with her daughter, and temporarily estranged from husband Jaime, Caridad is summoned home to Manila by a letter from her mother. Once there, she is drawn back into the lives and secrets of Thelma, her mother; her aunt Emma; and Ligaya, her oldest cousin. With a certain amount of foreshadowing and numerous richly detailed detours into local history, including an account of the Japanese Occupation, Caridad learns the truth about her parentage. Thelma recalls her marriage to Raoul, the only son of an affluent Chinese family who expected her to live with them and bear many sons; the infant Raoul brought home with tragic consequences; the changes in their marriage; and the decision she made and never regretted in the first year after the war. Emma, meanwhile, recalls her happy marriage to Alfonso; the birth of their many children; the privations and horror of the Japanese Occupation; and the early death of Alfonso, a loss that had many repercussions. Ligaya adds her own personal memories, as well as her reasons for not marrying for love; and Caridad, as she travels back and forth among the women, finally understands her past and herself. Realizing "that I had so much. . . . I had been given so much," she goes back to try reconciliation with Jaime.
A thin, less-than-riveting plot enhanced by graceful prose and a generouslyat times too generouslyevoked sense of place and period: a flawed but promising first outing.
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Meet the Author
Arlene J. Chai was born and educated in Manila. In 1982, she migrated to Sydney with her parents and sisters and now lives in Northern Beaches. After more years as an advertising copywriter than she cares to mention, she had a year off during which she wrote The Last Time I Saw Mother. She is at work on a second novel.
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I cant believe they're adding this to the new curriculum! Lucky kids
Arlene Chai's first venture is well-written and expounds on the interplay of various cultures on the Filipino people. Our strong Spanish and Chinese influences and conflicting values are captured profoundly yet it is still a joy to read. Family relationships esp. among women is also depicted with keen perspective.
Arlene Chai's is an excellect read for people who are interested in people and relationships. In the book the focus is on Filipino women: as wife, daughter, aunt, niece, mother, sister,grandma, granddaughter, in-law, friend. The relationships are given extra texture thru the interplay of Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, and Australian cultures, and the influence of American and Japanese occupations. Unique insights into Philippine society are likewise provided, including the period under Marcos's martial law. This is a book the value of which can only increase over time inasmuch as it has neatly captured various nuances of the Filipino character and of Philippine life for the enjoyment and insights of future generations.
A great read about life in the philippines (Manila in particular) during and since WWII. This book also gives great insight into a Filipino mother-daughter relationship.