Friday, May 19, 2023


November 2021

Filipino literature--in the Philippines and the diaspora--is a vibrant area of English-language writing. The Halo-Halo Review is an accessible online summary of critical and other responses to Filipino literature's multiple and diverse forms. We hope that what others are saying about Filipino English-language literature will encourage others to read, teach and engage. 

By "Filipino," The Halo-Halo Review means all who self-identify as Filipino whether they're in the Philippines or the diaspora, as well as mixed and hyphenated Filipinos. Alternative monikers include Pinoy, Pinay, Pilipinx, Pin@y, Pilipino, Pilipina -- we welcome you all as long as you enjoy halo-halo and manga!

Reviews and engagements are sorted by genre. Click on the genre below to see the book titles reviewed and their accompanying links. Multi-genre books may be placed in more than one category (e.g. if a book includes poetry and fiction, it will be sorted in both of the categories).







The Halo-Halo Review has two components. The first component, as described above, is an aggregation of online links to reviews and other engagements with Filipino literature throughout the internet. While the editor has begun collecting such links, readers are also encouraged to share information on other links. Links will be posted on an ongoing basis at the applicable genre sites.

The Halo-Halo Review's second component is The Halo-Halo Review's Mangozine which will contain new reviews. We welcome reviewers (reviewers need not be Filipino) -- click HERE for more information (feel free to review Filipino English-language books from your own sources). Also featured will be a "Readers Show Love to Filipino Authors" section--we are always looking for contributions; more info HERE. In addition, The Mangozine also will serve as the first online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions)  published in print but not yet available online. Finally, its feature articles will include author interviews. 

While reviewed publications are in English, we will cover bilingual editions, as well as Filipino-language books if the review is in English.

To share information about additional links and/or to discuss your interest in writing a review, please go to the ABOUT section for contact information.


(to be updated over time)

If you're a Filipino writer and you're writing in English, you have to have a clear reason for the language that you're using ... I'm going to write in English: why? ... It really has to do with class ... For me to be part of the world of the enemy and yet to be attached to that world ... For the Filipino, English is a very literary language. The writers in English are always working with or working against the language we are given, the colonizer's language. People who live in a colonized world recognize you are living in a world of translation...

Ricardo M. de Ungria in “An English Apart” ...claim[es] that “[w]riting well in English is [his] best revenge against English,” De Ungria searches the various polemics that surround the English debate: 

But why do I want to take revenge at the English language? … Because it taught me, among other things, to think poorly of my native language and exclude this from the discourse of my deepest needs and joys and aspirations? … Because it foisted upon me a rich heritage of writing that I could never be a part of nor even closely relate to…? Because it left me inside a wonderful labyrinth of a symbolic world whose exquisite emblems and implements only heighten my sense of helplessness and futility at being understood…? Because it has opened me up to a fascinating world where I am condemned forever to live as a stranger? 

In 1898, the United States claimed it owned the Philippines after buying it for $20 million from Spain through the Treaty of Paris. The Filipinos—who had won and declared their independence from Spain—protested, and thus commenced the Philippine-American War, a war that has been called the United States’ “First Vietnam.” With their prowess on the military terrain, the U.S. defeated the Philippines. The U.S. solidified its colonial domination through the cultural and linguistic terrain with the popularization of English as the preferred language for education, administration, commerce and daily living. Thus, English is sometimes called by Filipinos to be “the borrowed tongue,” though enforced tongue would be more accurate.

whenever I sit down to chat your English rises like a mountain peak
Paolo Javier, from "Soldiering On Like The Devil" in COURT OF THE DRAGON

We used to talk about the course of Philippine literature in English as though it passed somewhat miraculously through three stages: a period of apprenticeship, of emergence or growth, and then of maturity. It was in the 1950s a useful if also a subtly condescending way of picturing what was called its “development.” On the other hand, Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, S.J., thought in 1957 that Philippine literature is whatever language was “perpetually inchoate” because, first, the writers couldn’t earn a living from their writing; second, we were torn by several languages or had not mastered English well enough; and third, we were culturally confused or had not fostered enough our own hybrid culture. It is well worth quoting Fr. Bernad:
Filipino writers in Spanish flourished at the end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. But this flowering of a culture never bore fruit: its roots were soon withered. While Apostol and Guerrero, Bernabe and Balmori, Barcelon and Recto, were writing poems that were admired in Spain, a generation of Filipino was growing up that would not understand the language in which they were written.
This is not to deplore the coming of English to our shores. Its coming was by no means deplorable: it was a cultural windfall. It does explain, however, why Philippine letters, which had finally flowered (and it is a curious thing that it did not come to its full flowering until after Spanish political domination was over) died out quickly, even in flower. Philippine letters had to seek other roots in a different cultural soil. This is why even after sixty years of English in the Philippines, Philippine literature in English is still young. But it has much promise: it may eventually attain to full maturity. (Bamboo and the Greenwood Tree) 1957/1961).
Gemino Abad,  from Our Scene So Fair: Filipino Poetry in English, 1905-1955

Today, whatever standing I may have as a poet in the Philippines will probably be based on my Tagalog poems. But I will also probably be remembered, or remain notorious, for my last poem in English. // It’s an acrostic poem, and the first letters of the lines, if read downwards, spell out a Tagalog slogan popular among demonstrators before martial law: MARCOS HITLER DIKTADOR TUTA (Marcos Hitler, Dictator, Running Dog).
—Jose F. Lacaba, from "Why I Stopped Writing Poetry in English"


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 15 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

Submission deadline for the 16th issue has been set at Nov. 15, 2023 (though we will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

(May  2023)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the 15th issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-Pilipinz literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers, artists, and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 


When the Hibiscus Falls by M. Evelina Galang (Coffee House Press, 2023)

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality by Arnold Arre (Tuttle Publishing, 2022)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

Waking Up to the Pattern Left by a Snail Overnight by Jim Pascual Agustin (Gaudy Boy LLC / Singapore Unbound, New York, 2023)

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora by Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan (Abrams, 2021)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

Trese vol. 1:  Murder on Balete Drive (Issues 1-4) by Budgette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo (Ablaze, 2020)

Reviewed by Eric Smith

The Mountain That Grew by Alfred A. Yuson with art/design by Marcel Antonio and Ilana Antonio (San Anselmo Publications, Philippines, 2022)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Boy Wander: A Coming of Age Memoir by Jobert E. Abueva (Rattling Good Yarns Press, LLC, 2023)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

Go HERE for Flash reviews of The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines by Vicente L. Rafael (ADMU Press, 2005); Sky Blue After the Rain: Selected Stories and Tales by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (University of the Philippines Press, 2005)The Light in One’s Blood: Select Poems, 1973-2020 by Gemino H. Abad (University of the Philippines Press, 2021); Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture by Doreen Fernandez (Anvil, 2020); All the Conspirators by Carlos Bulosan (Anvil, 2001); and MOTHERLESS TONGUES: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation by Vicente L. Rafael (ADMU Press, 2016).

Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan


Lara Stapleton: The Ruin of Everything


Go HERE to read:

Eileen Tabios on Ina Cariño
Eileen Tabios on Hari Alluri
Elizabeth Ann Quirino on Claude Tayag, Michaela Fenix, and Ige Ramos
Leny Strobel on Gilda Cordero-Fernando
Eric Smith on Paolo Chikiamco and Mervin Alonzo

Eileen Tabios on Monica Macansantos

Leny Strobel on Patrick Rosal

Eileen Tabios on Patricia Manuel Go


"Meeting Cecilia Brainard and Her Books" (with a nod to Veronica Montes' fictions) by Rachielle Ragasa Shuffler

"Indigenous Futurism and DOVELION by Eileen R. Tabios" by Denise Low

"A Postmortem of Ang Maghuhurno" by Cymbeline Villamin


Introduction to Ang Maghuhurno by Cymbeline R. Villamin (8Letters Bookstore and Publishing, Philippines, 2023) by Joi Barrios

Introduction to KAPWA'S NOVELS by Eileen R. Tabios (Booksby Press, Ohio, 2022)



When the Hibiscus Falls by M. Evelina Galang

(Coffee House Press, 2023)




This is a book where the very first sentence rocked/rocks me. I read it and had to pause for a meaningful while to meditate over it:


“No one ever gets the story right.”


If, from that first sentence, you immediately go to the book’s last story, you’d glean the brilliance with which the book was organized, which is to say, conceptualized.


But let’s pause to laugh, though (well, I laugh). “No one ever gets the story right,” M. Evelina Galang states in her new short story collection, When the Hibiscus Falls. Then she proceeds to deliver a solid collection of 17 short stories. As the first short story proclaims with its title, Strength is the Woman. Strong enough for this woman-author to hold onto contradictions without being taken down by them.


Psychic strength was clearly required to write these stories revolving around generations of Filipino women in the U.S. and the Philippines, and the roles they play: daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties, cousins, lolas, and friends. My personal favorite may be “Hilot of Paranaque” for eliciting the most empathy from me. But that it has this effect is not a good thing: I empathize most with this story because I’ve met or know of too many women who have had to sacrifice themselves to leave the Philippines and, as they say, go abroad in order to finance better lives for themselves and/or their families. There can never be enough stories about this type of sacrifice.


The title story, “When the Hibiscus Falls,” is powerful—it made me meditate on the specific nature of girls. As affirmed by my own childhood (I was obedient until I was not), I observe that when “good girls” rebel, their rebellion is more voluminous if not violent than that of the preternal mischief-makers or disobedient girls. Mayari was a bookworm/Ph.D. student who researched her people’s culture—the demigods mga ahas, duwende, aswang, muto as well as babaylans—but became “mean” to her own family. “Whatever blossom Moon Goddess planted in that girl died a long time ago.” I am often saddened by how girls growing up undergo a uniquely challenging process—this may be a non-ethnic situation, but color the matter with immigrant / diasporic characters and the results can be exploding volcanos.


I observe in several of these written stories an “oral” quality, by which the writing doesn’t generally have a propulsive momentum but presents itself in a way to make the reader linger. The effect is like oral storytelling where the speaker is constantly checking the audience to make sure s/he is keeping their interest. It’s also respectful in tone: the storyteller is sharing a story, versus telling it at the audience/reader. In “Loud Girl,” this approach is particularly effective for magnifying the effect of its killer-ending as Galang deftly integrates an unexpected reference to World War II’s effect on the protagonist’s father. Well done—one can’t, after all, get away from history.


Indeed, one of the strengths of the stories is the unexpected integration of particular details. In “Fighting Filipina,” which fictionalizes the unforgettable story of an elderly Chinese woman caught fighting back against those who attacked her (and I am grateful Galang reminds us readers of this powerful and poignant real story), Galang raises anti-Black racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. The protagonist’s grandmother lacks empathy or sympathy:


                        “Naku, anak,” Lola said, holding up her hand. “Hindi ka itim.”

                        “You don’t have to be Black to care, Lola. You can be an ally…”


Anti-black racism among certain Filipinos is an old story. I am reminded of it whenever I observe the popularity of whitening soap and other products. If I hung out on street corners, I sooner or later would shout, “People! It’s the 21stcentury! Accept your Brownness!” One of the most irritating exports in C- and K-dramas that enjoy global popularity is the ubiquitous whitening masks. Masks! Get it?  But I digress…


A different type of detail surfaces in “Loud Girl” related to Connie Chung (are Galang and I dating ourselves here, btw? I’m amused, but again I digress…):


            “You still want to major in journalism?”

            “I was thinking about it.” She put her sunglasses on

            “You could be the next Connie Chung,” he said.

            “Print journalism, Dad. Not television.” People were always telling her she would be the next Connie Chung, a talking head with a helmet of black hair and skin the color of rice paper.


Does every Asian American girl with aspirations to be a journalist have a Connie Chung moment? I certainly do, and it’s similar to what Galang describes above. Journalism was my first career—but print journalism, like the story’s primary protagonist Karo. I spent one high school semester interning at a local news station where I had a similar experience as described in “Loud Girl.” The flattening of individualism continues to be a potent force, and it stinks. 


As I noted in the beginning of this review, Galang’s organizational structure is admirable. The 17 stories begin and end with the bookends of rewritten myths. The first, “Strength is the Woman,” rewrites a Filipino origin story that mentions the first woman to be “Maganda,” or Beautiful, and the first man to be “Malakas,” or Strong. In Galang’s retelling, the first woman is not named but when a bird describes her as beautiful, she gives the bird the evil eye while Malakas says, “No, you stupid bird. She is strong.”


The ensuing stories then explain why to be a woman must be to be strong.


The last story, “Isla of the Babaylan," enacts Galang’s advice as a babaylan, a term that refers to indigenous Filipino healers and community leaders. Here, the enemy are the Spaniards who colonized the island (not a stretch since Spain was the Philippines’ colonial masters for three centuries). But recovery is possible—redemption awaits. But one has to “Honor yourself. Be yourself.” How? First, one must go Home to one’s self. I came back to myself


For centuries, sages have counseled for good reason: Be true to yourself. The world can be difficult but even in suffering, don’t lose yourself. That seems as good a remedy as any. It’s not a stretch to believe there are others out there who can find a healing of sorts in When the Hibiscus Falls. Galang further reminds, when the gumamela—the hibiscus—flower falls because it only lasts one day, a new flower replaces the old one the next day. So, girls, fall if you must—and perhaps to live is to fall—but also survive into the next blossoming. I wish for you the specific beauty of Strength.


Eileen R. Tabios has released over 70 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers around the world. In 2023, she releases the poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War; an autobiography, The Inventor; and a flash fiction collection collaboration with harry k stammer, Getting To One.  Other recent books include a first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times; two French books, PRISES (Double Take) (trans. Fanny Garin) and La Vie erotique de l’art (trans. Samuel Rochery); and a book-length essay Kapwa’s Novels. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form; the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity; and the “Flooid” poetry form that’s rooted in a good deed. Translated into 12 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. More information is at