(84) Arsenic and Adobo, Mia P. Manasala

I didn’t think I’d be ok with this, but I finished it without a rough patch, so that makes me feel good.

A bit incomprensible to be concerned about a cozy mystery about a second generation Filipina? Obviously. The Philippines are the first country I visited, first time I was on an airplane, and my world was crumbling when I did and continued to be really fractured for the next decade and a half or so, problems that were really about my parents, but the Philippines was an easy target to just really resent.

When I was sixteen, a junior in high school, my parents decided to move to the Philippines as missionaries. Since we were independent Baptists, that meant 1) a survey trip (my first trip overseas), 2) a year to a year and a half of deputation, and 3) then they’d move. The survey trip was to take pictures, make sure you really *had a call,* and … I don’t know what else. I have no idea why they took us, I’m sure it was ridiculously expensive. They should have dropped us at the grandparents’ house, as they later did. Deputation (for independant Baptists) is when the missionary/family travel around to churches all over the country, *presenting the ministry* and asking for monthly pledges. When you get to the amount you/the mission board has set as the requisite for survival in your country, you then go. Everybody in the family is on display during this time– you’re selling your family as a worthy investment of tithe dollars. So at the very least you are kind and open and smiling in a hundred different places and always. Preferably, you’re playing the piano, and dazzling with your … whatever. Angelic sweetness. We used to joke that our names were pack and smile, which meant that we were less important than the function that we were performing. This really messed both of us up. [See later post on The Body Keeps the Score. Wow is that book good.] When it got too bad on the road [read: our palpable misery was palpable], they let us stay at the grandparents. At the start of this grand adventure, the house was sold, all of our possessions, keepsakes, mementos were sold or disposed of (we kept our personal stuff, just like family stuff, all of it went.) And we moved in with our grandparents, me with my grandpa (Papaw), and Anna with our great grandmother (Grannie), grandpa’s mother in law, who lived half a mile down the road. In a tiny town that we felt so alone in. It was a dark time. And when that was done, when they had earned enough to move, they did, taking Anna, who had a few years of highschool left, and dropping me off at Bible college. She’s more messed up than me about it– she had to live there, not speaking the language, with no one who wasn’t on display or best behavior. But that’s her experience. Mine: I have a lot of resentment about it, the culmination of a really odd and emotionally tumultous childhood was a complete fracturing and deep feelings of abandonment.

SO. All of that has nothing to do with the actual Philippines. or with those who live there, or those who immigrate to the US. Just personal trauma. This book, about a girl who returns home to help save the family restaurant and finds her ex-boyfriend, now horrible food critic, dead at a table, has nothing to do with all of that. But something about the repeating motif of ube and the off-hand mentions of Tagalog, made this a bit touch-and-go for me for a bit. But I finished and I enjoyed it. And that could not be less of a book review. Rather, here’s my skull peeled open. And that’s what I have to say about that.

Plan to read the next book in the series.


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