Monday, November 11, 2019


The Halo-Halo Review is open to reviewing English works by Filipino authors. Titles reviewed need not be recent releases. If you are a publisher, author or publicist who would like to submit a review copy for consideration, please contact us at galateaten at gmail dot com

Deadline for Issue #9: April 15, 2020

We are open to reviews of books for which reviewers already own copies. In addition, we provide a selection of review copies, as listed below in alphabetical order by the authors' or editors' last names.  Any reviewing style is acceptable. 

Inexperienced reviewers should feel free to participate. Editor Eileen R. Tabios is willing to work with you, if you need support.

Note: We are also open to reviews of individual short stories and poems and not just books. This includes short stories and poems published in the internet.


The Kissing by Merlinda Bobis (Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco, 2001)+

The Descartes Highlands by Eric Gamalinda (novel, Akashic Books, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2015)

STAMPED by Kawika Guillermo (Westphalia Press, Washington D.C., 2018)

MANILA NOIR edited by Jessica Hagedorn (short story anthology, Akashic Books, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2013)

Age of Blight by Kristine Ong Muslim (Unnamed Press, 2016)

AMERICAN SON by Brian Ascalon Roley (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2001)4

EXACTLY HERE, EXACTLY NOW by Nadine Sarreal (Giraffe Books, Philippines, 2000)

The Lowest Blue Flame Before Nothing by Lara Stapleton (Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco, 1998)

SILK EGG: Collected Novels (2009-2009) by Eileen R. Tabios (Shearsman Books, U.K., 2011)5

Monsters: Stories by Lesley Tenorio (Ecco, 2012)

Jack & Agyu by Justine Villanueva with illustrations by Lynnor Bontigao (Sawaga River Press, 2019)+

THE MUSIC CHILD and Other Stories by Alfred Yuson (short stories, Anvil Publishing, Pasig City, 1991)


After projects the resound by Kimberly Alidio (Black Radish Books, 2016)

THE CHAINED HAY(NA)KU PROJECT, Eds. Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego and Eileen Tabios (Meritage Press and xPress(ed), San Francisco & St. Helena and Puhos, Finland, 2010)3

KALI'S BLADE by Michelle Bautista (Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2006)

1000 Views of Girl Singing edited by John Bloomberg-Rissman (Leafe Press, U.K., 2009) 
Description: The starting point was the poem "The Secret Life of an Angel" by Eileen Tabios, itself a response to the poem "Girl Singing" by Filipino Poet José Garcia Villa. Bloomberg-Rissman used various transformational procedures to produce versions of Tabios' poem, or new poems based upon it. More information is available HERE.

Bridgeable Shores: Selected Poems (1969-2001) by Luis Cabalquinto, edited by Eileen Tabios (Kaya Press, New York, 2001)2

BABAYLAN: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FILIPINA AND FILIPINA AMERICAN WRITERS, edited by Nick Carbo and Eileen Tabios (Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco, 2000)

TATTERED BOAT by Luis H. Francia (University of Philippines Press, 2014) 7

Flippin': Filipinos on America, co-edited by Luis H. Francia and Eric Gamalinda (Asian American Writers Workshop, New York, 1996)

SCREAMING MONKEYS: Critiques of Asian American Images edited by M. Evelina Galang, in collaboration with Poetry Editor Eileen Tabios, Nonfiction Editor Sunaina Maira, Art Editor Jordan Isip and Found Images Editor Anida Yoeu Esguerra (Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 1996)
DOCUMENTS by Jan-Henry Gray (BOA Editions, Rochester, N.Y., 2019)

BLUE by Reme Grefalda and Wesley St. Jo (Paloma Press, 2017)

traje de boda by Aileen Ibardaloza (Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2010)3

THE BUDDHA WONDERS IF SHE IS HAVING A MID-LIFE CRISIS by Luisa A. Igloria+ (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2018)

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo (Commune Editions, 2016)4

THE GULAG ARKIPELAGO by Sean Labrador y Manzano (Tinfish, Hawai'i, 2012)
ARCHIPELAGO OF DUST by Karen Llagas (Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2012)1, 8

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo (Commune Editions, 2016)

FANBOYS: Poems about Teaching and Learning by Lani T. Montreal (Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, 2018)

WE WILL SEE THE SCATTER by Jasmine Nikki C. Paredes (chap, Dancing Girl Press & Studio, Chicago, 2014)

ALL THINGS LOSE THOUSANDS OF TIMES by Angela Penaredondo (Inlandia Books, Riverside, CA, 2016)

By Astrolabes & Constellations by Cristina Querrer+ (Agave Press Manuscript & Portfolio Series, Portland, OR, 2019). 

AMANDA by Amanda Ngoho Reavey (An Operating System Publication, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2015)
A TRANSPACIFIC POETICS, edited by Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu, featuring Filipino writers Barbara Jane Reyes, Sean Labrador Y Manzano and Eileen R. Tabios (Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2017)9

FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME by Barbara Jane Reyes (chap, Aztlan Libre Press, San Antonio, TX, 2012)

INVOCATION TO DAUGHTERS by Barbara Jane Reyes (City Lights, San Francisco, 2017)

Anemal, Uter Meck by Mg Roberts (Black Radish Books, 2017)

ANNE WITH AN E & ME by Wesley St. Jo (Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2018)

The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019 by Eileen R. Tabios (Marsh Hawk Press, 2019) 8

ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems by Eileen R. Tabios (a bilingual edition with translations by Rebeka Lembo) (Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2018)

HIRAETH: Tercets from the Last Archipelago by Eileen R. Tabios (Knives Forks & Spoons Press, U.K., 2017)

MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator by Eileen R. Tabios+ (Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2018)

LOVE IN A TIME OF BELLIGERENCE by Eileen R. Tabios (Editions du Cygne, Paris, 2017)6

MANHATTAN: An Archaeology by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, 2017)

THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPOBIA: Prime's Anti-Autobiography by Eileen R. Tabios (Knives Forks & Spoons Press, U.K., 2017)5

THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS by Eileen R. Tabios (Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2016)3

INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected and New Catalog Poems 1996-2015 by Eileen R. Tabios (Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2015)2

THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) by Eileen R. Tabios (Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2010)

ALL TITLES (that are not out of print) by Eileen R. Tabios are available for review; check list of her books by going HERE and clicking on "Publications."
VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA: A Storm of Filipino Poets edited by Eileen Tabios (Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2014). Description available at the Book Blog. 3, 8

PRAU by Jean Vengua (Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2007)3

HAY(NA)KU 15 Edited by Eileen R. Tabios (Meritage Press / Paloma Press, 2018)

THE CHAINED HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY Edited by Ivy Alvarez, Ernesto Priego, John Bloomberg-Rissman and Eileen Tabios (Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena)

THE HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY, VOL. II Edited by Jean Vengua & Mark Young (Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2008)1


DIASPORIC INTIMACIES: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries, Edited by Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, and Fritz Pino (Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 2018)

#30 Collantes Street by Lisa Suguitan Melnick (memoir-vignettes, Philippine American Writers and Artists, San Francisco, 2015)

A TRANSPACIFIC POETICS, edited by Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu, featuring Don Mee Choi, Melanie Rands, Jai Arun Ravine, Ya-Wen Ho, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sean Labrador Y Manzano, Eileen R. Tabios, Murray Edmond, Susan Schultz, Craig Santos Perez, Corey Wakeling, Lehua M. Taitano, Stuart Cooke, Myung Mi Kim (Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2017)  [If reviewer wishes, focus should be on the Filipino authors]9

TO BLACK PARENTS VISITING EARTH: Raising Black Children in the 21st Century by Janet Stickmon (Broken Shackle Publishing, El Cerritos, CA 2018)

A LOLONG TIME AGO: a Prehistory of the Philippines by Michelline Suarez, Joonee Garcia, Divine Reyes and Benjor Catindig (Tahanan Books for Young Readers, Manila, 2016)

FLYING OVER KANSAS: Personal Views by Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas (essays, Giraffe Books, Quezon City, 1998)

The Epistolary Criticism of Manual A. Viray: In Memoriam, Collected by L.M. Grow (Giraffe Books, Quezon City, 1998)

Note: A "+" by the author's or editor's name indicates the review copy is being perused by a potential reviewer and may not be immediately available. But just query the Editor to be sure.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

THE HALO-HALO REVIEWS' Mangozine: Issue 8

In addition to aggregating reviews from the internet, THE HALO-HALO REVIEW presents The Mangozine which features new reviews and serves as the online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions) published in print but not yet available within the internet.  Other features, including author interviews and reader testimonials, also will be presented. The following presents a Table of Contents for Issue 8 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

(November 2019)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the eighth issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-PilipinZ literature and authors through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 

The Mangozine's Review Copy information is HERE; you are encouraged to fatten up the list as well as pick some to review! Submission deadline for the ninth issue has been set at April. 15, 2020 (though I will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

Go HERE to continue the Editor's Note.


THE BETRAYED by Reine Arcache Melvin (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2018)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios

America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan (Penguin Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Paulino Lim Jr.

GLIMPSES: A POETIC MEMOIR by Leny Mendoza Strobel (Paloma Press, 2019)
Engaged by Maileen Dumelod Hamto

“Hawak/Hold (Davao Gulf)” by Katrina Bello (graphite on paper, 2019)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios

The Pink House of Purple Yam Preserves & Other Poems by Aileen Cassinetto (Little Dove Books / Our Own Voice, San Mateo, 2018)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku by Eileen R. Tabios (Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2019)
Reviewed by Maileen Dumelod Hamto

NO TENDER FENCES: An Anthology of Immigrant & First Generation Immigrant American Poetry  edited by Carla Sofia Ferreira Kim Sousa & Marina Carreira (fundraising anthology for RAICES, 2019) 
Reviewed by Cristina Querrer

The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge (Forest Avenue Press, Portland, OR, 2017)
Reviewed by Maileen Dumelod Hamto

Returning a Borrowed Tongue: An Anthology of Filipino & Filipino American Poetry edited by Nick Carbo (Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 1996)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA edited by Eileen R. Tabios (Meritage Press, St. Helena & Sean Francisco, 2014)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
All Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan

Her Wild American Self by M. Evelina Galang (Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2016)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

ARCHIPELAGO OF DUST by Karen Llagas (Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2012)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater


Jose Padua

Michelle Peñaloza

Kawika Guillermo


Go HERE to read:

*     Eileen R. Tabios on Ninotchka Rosca
*     Cristina Querrer on Eileen R. Tabios, Barbara Jane Reyes, Luisa A. Igloria, Tony Robles, Aileen Cassinetto, Iv Alvarez, Marivi Soliven, Rodrigo Dela Peña, Kai Coggin, Monica Macansantos, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Michelle Peñaloza, Jose Padua with Heather Davis, Kay Fabella, Betty Ann Besa-Quirino and Melinda Luisa de Jesús
*     Eileen R. Tabios on Grace Talusan
*     Beverly Parayno on Veronica Montes
*     Vina Orden on Mia Alvar
*     Melinda Luisa de Jesús on Erin Entrada Kelly 
*     Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz on Eileen R. Tabios 
*     Ivy Alvarez on Luisa A. Igloria
*     Beverly Parayno on Tony Robles
*     Eileen R. Tabios on Jose Elvin Bueno
*     Margo Stebbing on Leny M. Strobel
*    Maileen Dumelod Hamto on Eileen R. Tabios


Reviews & Engagements

Figures in a Long Ago Mirror by Cesar Ruiz Aquino (Silliman University, 2019)
Reviewed by Alfred A. Yuson

HUMANITY: An Anthology (Vol. 1) edited by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2019)
Reviewed by Marjorie Evasco

Marawi and Other Poems by Simeon Dumdum, Jr. (Bughaw / Ateneo de Manila Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Alfred A. Yuson

Wala: Mga Tula ni E. San Juan, Jr. (Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press, 2016; revised edition, Philippines Studies Center, 2018)
Reviewed by Karlo Mikhail I. Mongaya

From Books: Introductions, Prefaces, Forewo
rds, Afterwords and Author's Notes

Doveglion: Collected Poems by José Garcia Villa
Engaged by Luis H. Francia

Eileen R. Tabios presents the Introduction to HUMANITY, Volume 1 edited by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2018)

EVOCARE: Collected Tankas by Ayo Gutierrez, Eileen R. Tabios, and Brian Cain Aene
Engaged by Andrea E. Lodge

Monday, November 4, 2019



THE BETRAYED by Reine Arcache Melvin
(Ateneo de Manila Press, 2018)

I just finished reading Reine Arcache Melvin's novel THE BETRAYED. Allow me a rare "should" to say this should be required reading for all Filipinos, even as it will delight literature lovers beyond the archipelago. Read it to be at the birth of what's destined to be a Filipino Classic, in part for its nuanced, elegant disquisition on the Filipino political/economic elite ... even as its revelations on the human condition are both timeless and timely. This novel is a feat!

Most write-ups (the book description on the back cover, early reviews, etc.) note that the novel is about two sisters who love the same man. Yet I found this ménage a trois not to be the most interesting or important element in the novel. It’s as if that part of the tale is the framing element for something else. That something else, to me, are the elements that should make this work a Classic in Filipino literature: its nuanced interrogation of the socio-political-economic elite of the Philippines that, simply, has failed its task of improving the welfare of the overall population. “With great wealth/privilege comes great responsibility,” as the saying goes—but on that responsibility, this elite has failed.

In Melvin’s writing hands, that failure is displayed in a literary context of observations, nay, truisms, about the human condition. It is that arrangement that also makes the novel timeless (thus, Classic) and transcend the story-telling limits of a family’s story and what formed/forms Philippine society.

Thus, a statement like

“She knew these sons of privilege. Men like him needed distractions, novelty, excitement.”

while situated within the novel’s narrative to be talking about the lead male protagonist Arturo, scion of a wealthy family that’s part of the country’s historical leadership, resonates for also being a statement about “sons of privilege” in ancient Roman times to today’s Washington D.C.

Melvin’s approach encompasses numerous elements of the “human condition” (I keep thinking of that phrase as I read her novel, specifically the pathos of such condition). Here’s a passage that addresses marriage:

“You want to know what I think? Why people on the same side of the river shouldn’t marry? Because they get tired of each other. Because they’re so used to seeing each other, smelling each other, hearing each other, that they don’t want to make love to each other at all. That’s what happens when you live with someone, Pilar. That’s the real taboo.”

While the above passage is contextualized in the novel (in a discussion between Arturo and one of the two lead female protagonists, Pilar) to be about a taboo in Manila about the inadvisability of people marrying people on the same side of the river, that rivery divide need not exist for readers to glean the accuracy of Melvin’s proposition regarding marriage. As yet another saying—that becomes a recognized saying for their truth and applicability time and time again—notes: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Here’s another example addressed by the novel’s other lead female protagonist Lali and her mother-in-law Marilou:

“Black-and-white images of Marilou as a young bride, voluptuous in a tight bodice and full skirt. A portrait taken on a trip to the Vatican, early in her marriage, her sharp features framed by a black lace veil, eyebrows arched, lips full and soft-looking. Marilou had spent more than half her life learning to attract men. Those skills were worthless now. Every society imposed a limit on a woman’s desirability. In Manila, the cut-off date came early. Lali reached for her mother-in-law’s hand and squeezed it light, sorry for her, and afraid for herself.”

That statement “Every society imposed a limit on a woman’s desirability” transcends the novel’s described context. It’s an old story—how a woman’s desirability can be adversely affected by not just age but a willingness to speak up, curiosity and experimentation, politics, skin tone, class, a feminist orientation, … one can go on and on, right?

Melvin even addresses mortality. Here’s another passage:

What was it about life, Lali thought, that made most people cling to it, even when all pleasure or possibility of pleasure was gone?

In the novel, the above occurs as Lali visits her bedridden mother. But anyone who fears death, or sufficiently aged into their second half of their human age, can empathize with the statement. Many of us, simply, do not want to die. I don’t. There, I said it: I don’t want to die. Yet will I feel that way if I’m bedridden and able to cope with pain only through tranquilizers, like Lali’s mother? And if I or anyone would feel that way, as Melvin’s Lali then notes, “What was it about life?”

Diction matters. More than once, Melvin also writes in a way that facilitates the transcending of her story’s particularities. For instance, look at this paragraph written from Arturo’s point of view:

“Of course Lali had loved him. But something breaks in a marriage. He didn’t know when it had happened, or how, but now he looked back and knew that what he had, what he thought he could not lose, what he had spent so much time running after and then settling into, the center, the anchor the reason—all that, broken. And he didn’t know why.

Consider the sentence, “But something breaks in a marriage.” Why wasn’t it written as “But something broke in his marriage”? But Melvin’s chosen diction here is more effective for encouraging the reader to take that thought and apply it to life outside the novel.

Indeed, one reason why THE BETRAYED is such compulsive reading is that Melvin’s writing style also maximizes the spaces for reader empathy. The sentences are not just about the story being shared but might apply, for the attentive reader, to that reader’s particular life or position in the world—another element that should make this new novel (and I say it again because this is the first time I’ve read a new work and believe it should become) a Classic.

Also sourcing reader empathy are Melvin’s thoughtfulness, provocativeness, evocativeness, as well as a steely discipline—all lined out with unrelenting elegance. Unrelenting, I say, because the writing is so elegant I couldn’t help becoming attentive to it until I began waiting for the elegance to break. It doesn’t. Ever. What an achievement.  Here are examples:

the thoughtfulness of

“Ghosts are so personal” (160)

; the provocativeness of

“She couldn’t live a life without wanting.” (283)

; the evocativeness of (and how I deeply appreciate this one)

“… there’ll be a kind of beauty. It comes out when things are broken.” (262)

; and the steel of

“Survival trumped virtue—even the nuns understood this” (162)

which made me pause to meditate over the challenge to virtue (stubbornly) existing if it’s ever “trumped” by survival.

Melvin’s writing also hearkens poetry in more than one way, including how Jose Garcia Villa once insisted about a poem—that each word be “necessary.” Here’s one of many examples where a poetic (rhythmic) music, too, can be gleaned from the contrasting long paragraph followed by two abruptly-short sentences:

“…The horror other people had expressed, months ago, when that ship had sunk on its way to Manila from a southern island, and almost all the children abroad had perished. She had felt horror, too, but not surprise. Men had trampled over children in their struggle to get out. Little boys and girls wailed in the corridors and on the deck, survivors said, but there weren’t enough lifeboats for all of them. Almost all the women had died, perhaps in the futile attempt to comfort the terrified children. Foolish women who gave tenderness when ruthlessness was necessary. Of the 3,000 or so people on the ship, less than 400 had survived, all but two of them young men. Life was for the strong, strength for the unsentimental.

Lali would have trampled.

And when it was done, she would be free.”

The all of it is masterful writing.

Yet Melvin’s mastery does not surprise me. As a poet, I certainly noticed how nearly all of the sections bore the epigraph of an excerpted poem. (Poems were written by Eric Gamalinda, Maria Luisa Igloria, Nick Joaquin, Emmanuel Lacaba, Barbara Jane Reyes, Angela Narciso Torres, Ricardo M. de Ungria, Alfred A. Yuson, and (full disclosure, me) Eileen R. Tabios.) For this reader, the narrative link between the epigraphed poem-excerpt and the section’s narrative is not (always) linear. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist as such link can be based on (instead of narrative) mood or tone or something else—which is to say, the link is sufficiently subjective so that Melvin displays a trust in the reader. That trust bespeaks a maturity leading to mastery. That trust also highlights the importance of her writing style—that it has to be sufficiently fine for the reader not to be put off by the many and complicated layers to the story.


As I’ve said, Melvin’s novel is replete with statements exemplifying larger matters than what contextualizes the specific acts taken by individual characters in the book. It’s why, at one point of reading through the novel, I felt that if one was to excavate out the specifics of story from the book to leave behind more general observations, the result would be a pretty good psychology book as regards the human condition.

Indeed, as an aside, Melvin’s parsing of marriage evokes Erich Fromm. While I’ve read Fromm, it was sufficiently long ago (and my memory is frail) that I choose to quote instead from fictionist Murzban Shroff whose relevant Facebook post I happened to read while writing this review; in his post Shroff says:

Reading Erich Fromm, Freud’s most astute disciple and critic, I have found some amazing insights into man-woman relationships. According to Fromm, it is the proprietory aspects of marriage that kills sexual love, when a woman is reduced to a mere provider and an inanimate object. Fromm hints at a strong and equal role for women, especially in matters of physical intimacy. He goes on to say: sexuality is fickle, and more so in men, who are roving adventurers, than in women, in whom the responsibility of child-bearing gives sex a different and serious meaning.

I cite Shroff on Fromm (Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought) simply because I had the thought about THE BETRAYED serving, too, as a psychology text—I could cite more examples.

But: it does occur to me now that perhaps my initial approach in engaging this book is giving short shrift to the novel’s actual story. Conflating and fictionalizing from real life characters in the Philippines’s history from Ferdinand Marcos’ rule to the current political regime under Rodrigo Duterte, THE BETRAYED is about a rebel who brought his family out of the Philippines for their safety, his two sisters, and, following the rebel’s assassination, the sisters’ lives back in the Philippines after their return. The sisters returned because one, Pilar, married the dictator’s godson, thus ensuring their safety. From there, the tale goes on to present a narrative touching on the politicians, countryside hacienderos with their private armies, Communist guerillas, and always the dispensable poor. Towards the end of the book, Arturo returns to his familial roots of becoming a politician by choosing to ally himself with another corrupt man who would become the country’s next president.

The above may be an inadequate summary of the novel; I acknowledge its inadequacy because I don’t want to dilute the (impressive) complicatedness of Melvin’s narrative. But if I can’t rise to sharing more about the actual narrative, it undoubtedly is for the same reason I preferred first to focus on Melvin’s fabulously nuanced writing versus story. I would have preferred to ignore the actual story because it’s both, for Filipinos, a tediously old story as well as that it doesn’t have a happy ending. More specifically, the novel doesn’t provide lessons on how now to improve the Philippines’ state of affairs, mired as it is in the hands of the same long-standing ruling political and economic elite that’s crumpled ethics against the brutishness of their inherited contexts. The story ends, for instance, with Arturo preferring that his children move out of the Philippines before he stayed on and, in staying on, became “corrupt” and the best that can be concluded is how his particular corruption didn’t entirely delete everything that was good in him.

After all that’s happened—and not to Arturo and his family but to the larger Filipino population that bears the brunt of their inadequacies—it’s hard to swallow that the best one can hope for is that, like Arturo, we retain some of our  “goodness.” But at least there’s goodness, some might say; some people never have goodness (like another character, Ricky, the Philippine president by the time the novel ends and who Arturo decided to back). But that’s a pretty low threshold, isn’t it? That we should be happy with the outcome—that Arturo still retained some of his goodness—because others aren’t even good? Tell that to the character who was beheaded because he was dispensable and goons wanted to give a show to a visiting U.S.-American journalist (he was a character in the novel but, in real life, many Filipinos have suffered similarly).

Meditating over this made me think at one point about the People Revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos. One of the elements admired about that revolution was its bloodlessness. But look at the aftermath of that revolution. It makes me believe that perhaps revolutions should be bloody.

But then I look at the aftermath of various other bloody revolutions throughout human history and … I hear Alice calling from deep within the rabbit hole. Human condition—you are a disgrace.

This is why, to quote-paraphrase a poet friend Marthe Reed, “I love my friends but hate the human race.” I do offer a way out viz living in the "micro" versus the "macro," differentiating between the micro of one’s individual, day-to-day acts versus being immobilized by the unrelenting arc of the macro which points to destruction of existence (if interested, see my interview, “The Arduity of Poetry,” where I expand on these views, published in HUMANITY, a 2018 anthology from Paloma Press). 

If justice existed, Melvin’s THE BETRAYED would cause such epiphanies that people would change their behavior, opening the way for the Philippines to develop positively its potential such that so many need not leave its territory for better lives elsewhere. But THE BETRAYED is fiction and if real-life narratives have not sufficed to create this result, should we be optimistic? All of this, of course, also points to the aptness of the novel’s lack of a happy ending. With utter sadness, the novel affirms my conclusion a long time ago by noting that the best one can do is live positively in the micro instead of changing the macro—of nonetheless doing our best to be good people for the sake of family, community, and the rest immediately around us. The macro is lost: humanity is the most dangerous species on the planet.


But. Wait. Shortly after reading THE BETRAYED, I read Grace Talusan’s courageous memoir The Body Papers (which I write about HERE). The two books overlap in their concern over family, specifically the Filipino family. Talusan suffered from a grandfather who was a pedophile but whose abuse was covered up or dismissed by some relatives. Such, is loyalty for and within family. In the larger setting of Filipino culture, one can see the debasement of what should be a positive force—family—viz a viz how politics and business are governed by family and clan relations. I suspect diluting patronage concerns and bias may go a long way to diluting corruption—but is it possible?

Is it possible, I ask and laugh … at myself. There I go evincing faith in humanity.

Where faith is rewarded, it seems to me, is (mostly) in the micro. Here, we can create or enjoy art in all of its forms. Art is the opposite of corruption.
Melvin has created a classic work of art: she comprehends the bathos of providing alternatives to the human condition that she has described with such nuance, care, and wisdom. The elegance of her writing and the commitment inherent in being able to understand various elements in order to write about them in the way she has done are more than enough to warrant the necessity of this novel. Her words can lead us to despair over the human condition and perhaps such despair is the last word—but neither does she shut the door to the occasional leap of faith that humans can find redemption. If such redemption is only or mostly possible in what I call the “micro,” we should note also that it is on that terrain where Love exists.


UPDATE: My hope that this novel becomes a "Classic" is given a boost by the book receiving this week the Philippines' National Book Award for the novel as well as the Palanca Award for the novel -- congratulations to Reine Archache Melvin!


Eileen R. Tabios has released about 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. In 2020 she will release a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form (whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 was celebrated in the U.S. with exhibitions, a new anthology, and readings at the San Francisco  and St. Helena Public Libraries) as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into ten languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at