The Mango Bride. Marivi Soliven. Penguin Group (USA). April 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451239846.
What is it about emigration and immigration that allows one person to maintain love for one’s heritage and adapt to one’s new environment while another is unable to let go of the past and finds the experience of a new country to be so harsh, even abominable? This is the central issue in The Mango Bride which is the story of several characters forced to leave the Philippines and live in Oakland, California in 1995. But the story is so, so much more. It begins with Marcela the cook/maid stabbing Senora Concha, the mother of Ampara and her brothers. There’s a sense of magical realism in the initial scene, with few clues to indicate why Marcela has snapped. But everyone in the family is cautious and careful and won’t even consider calling the police. She gets medical attention from her son, the dermatologist, and all seems forgotten as the story switches to Ampara whose mother made her emigrate to America for a shameful secret that no one is supposed to know but everyone does.
Ampara’s point of view appears as she is a translator, taking care of her home and answering the telephone to do her job translating for police and social workers in Oakland. Chapters follow with Filipinos living in California, a viciously abused woman, a women who is carrying an unwanted pregnancy, and so many more tales. What is most striking about these suffering women is the loneliness of American life for them and their painfully raw nostalgia for their native home. Ampara tries to stay neutral but one story in particular sets off her own painfully poignant memories. When she meets her Uncle several times, a recovering alcohol holding his own secrets, he is reluctant to address the issues and secrets Ampara knows he is harboring. She has a solid relationship with a new boyfriend and wouldn’t consider leaving but her heart aches for her mother, no not Senora Concha but Marcela who acted as her “real” mother for some odd reason most of Ampara’s life. Marcela realizes she needs to catch up with connecting with her children but her fear of scandal is larger than her maternal instincts. We will later know why and the immense consequences of that secret.
We also meet Beverly, a maid who is cousin to Ampara, who has her own awful story regarding her deceased mother and her present issues as the wife of a white man who treats her like a dog and will even try to ship her back home – for good! She is actually more of a central character than Ampara because Beverly’s story parallels the story of so many young Filipino woman in America.
This notable novel almost defies description. Loyalty, family, gender roles, gender abuse, betrayal, revelation, repentance are just a few of the topics that these potent scenes address and which one appreciates as a sign of the immigrant and cultural experiences herein that one has never previously realized. If you, the reader, are not there, this book will amaze you; if you, the reader relate, there is comfort, truth and healing herein. Finely crafted novel and superb contemporary fiction, Marivi Soliven! Great read!