THE LAST TIME I SAW MOTHER by Arlene J. Chai

THE LAST TIME I SAW MOTHER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Mother-daughter relationships with add-ons as debut novelist Chai expands to varying effect this trendy genre by including lessons on recent Philippine history. Like her 30ish protagonist Caridad, Chai (who was born in Manila) has Chinese parents and a cultural heritage that is as much Chinese as Spanish and Filipino--a heritage that makes for a pleasingly textured novel, though at times the insertion of local color seems forced. Now living in Australia with her daughter, and temporarily estranged from husband Jaime, Caridad is summoned home to Manila by a letter from her mother. Once there, she is drawn back into the lives and secrets of Thelma, her mother; her aunt Emma; and Ligaya, her oldest cousin. With a certain amount of foreshadowing and numerous richly detailed detours into local history, including an account of the Japanese Occupation, Caridad learns the truth about her parentage. Thelma recalls her marriage to Raoul, the only son of an affluent Chinese family who expected her to live with them and bear many sons; the infant Raoul brought home with tragic consequences; the changes in their marriage; and the decision she made and never regretted in the first year after the war. Emma, meanwhile, recalls her happy marriage to Alfonso; the birth of their many children; the privations and horror of the Japanese Occupation; and the early death of Alfonso, a loss that had many repercussions. Ligaya adds her own personal memories, as well as her reasons for not marrying for love; and Caridad, as she travels back and forth among the women, finally understands her past and herself. Realizing ``that I had so much. . . . I had been given so much,'' she goes back to try reconciliation with Jaime. A thin, less-than-riveting plot enhanced by graceful prose and a generously--at times too generously--evoked sense of place and period: a flawed but promising first outing.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1996
ISBN: 0-449-91068-7
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996