MAILEEN HAMTO Reviews
A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories by Linda Ty-Casper
(Philippine American Literary House, Santa Monica, CA, 2017)
Memory and imagination take full flight in the sometimes agonizing search for reconciliation and redemption in Linda Ty-Casper’s A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories. Accentuated by the author’s sharp attention to defining place and time, the exquisite collection of stories encapsulate the depth and heft of any woman’s regret, guilt and remorse.
“Lives are fables upon which to hang stories of lost lives.” Throughout the volume, reflections and realizations transcend time, place and identity, revealing complex and – at times, forcibly – forgotten entanglements. Confronted with mortality, a mother silently grieves that her grown children could not pronounce her Filipino name. A woman struggles with her ambivalence toward fully embracing motherhood. Anita, a balikbayan, seeks to make up for almost 40 years of absence from the homeland. A daughter makes peace with her mother’s sorrow over stillborn children, all buried outside the cemetery walls.
Prepare yourself for the tears, for they will come. These stories explore the depth of ruin and loss in exile, self-imposed or otherwise. Returning to lost places remembered in dreams, Ty-Casper’s women live lives interspersed with brief moments of joy, only to be interrupted by tragedies and catastrophes, both large and small. They come to terms with anguish and find a reason to move on, despite near-fatal wounds.
“Being with relatives help us to discover who we are.” In the novella that bears the collection’s name, the author sets Anita’s homecoming amid the backdrop of the chaotic political theater that embodied the rule of ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada. Ty-Casper’s previous works of historical fiction have focused on the retelling of reported events that occurred during the hard-fought battle for Philippine independence, as well as torture and mayhem during the Marcos regime.
In “A River,” turmoil in Philippine society mirrors manipulations and maneuverings of Anita’s relatives who are shamelessly angling for material inheritance. Casper-Ty’s intimacy with Filipino culture and psyche renders her characters recognizable and approachable, if not endearing: Tios, Tias and other familiar pamilya characters that surface at any family reunion. Patro speaks of penises and old Tios relive their trauma through the same stories. Every woman has a confidante -archrival, and Lili plays the part well.
The Filipino reader will also appreciate how Ty-Casper’s narrative form appropriately employs Filipino thought and tradition in revealing clues about unspoken secrets and unimaginable heartaches. It is a well- known Filipino practice to wake from dreaming, and share details of dreams with others. Although Anita does not verbalize her visions, she flows in and out of her dreams and recollections from her childhood during her visit, straddling memory and reality of otherness in the homeland she abandoned decades ago. Her return to the homeland ravaged by moral bankruptcy also became an occasion to confront the horrific violence of a not-so-distant past.
“Memories are part of the wholeness of our lives.” The constant search for authentic identity and self has been a recurring theme in Ty-Casper’s works, and “A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories” carries forward this legacy. As a survival tactic, it has been the Filipina’s way to rise from torment and shame, to conveniently forget atrocities committed by enemies within and without. But some stories are too important to simply be forgotten.
We are gifted with Ty-Casper’s continuing and deepening interrogation of the Filipino self and unnamed collective traumas through historical narratives that focus primarily on the lives of women. Although painful, there also is beauty in searching for the unvarnished truth in mangled memories and white-washed lies, anchored by dreams of the past.
Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, Maileen Hamto currently lives in Colorado, by way of the Pacific Northwest and the Texas Gulf Coast. For more than 20 years, Maileen has worked in organizations focused on eliminating poverty, dismantling racism, and creating opportunities for diverse communities. Presently, she leads equity and inclusion strategies for a community mental health agency. In her everyday work, she is guided by wisdom gleaned from her lived experiences as an immigrant woman of color who is humbled everyday by the journey of decolonization. Maileen curates content for the Colors of Influence blog, which covers issues from workforce diversity, cultural preservation, community advocacy, health disparities, and social inequities. Since obtaining a degree in Journalism from the University of Houston, Maileen has earned two master’s degrees: an MBA from the University of Portland and a master’s in Healthcare Management from Oregon Health & Science University. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Urban and Diverse Communities at the University of Colorado in Denver.