A collection of essays extends and expands on the themes introduced in the author’s highly regarded memoir, Monsoon Mansion (2018).
Barnes’ first book introduced a gifted writer with a compelling story about her life in the Philippines. After her father left the family, her mother became unstable. The author was adopted by an American family, but the law said she was too old for the necessary paperwork, so she remained an undocumented teenager, working jobs that paid her in cash—e.g., cleaning houses, taking care of children, working at a laundry and at a cafe. Her schoolwork promised a pathway out, and she did well, particularly after switching to a journalism major and finding her voice and the stories that only she could tell. Barnes married a fellow graduate student, a white man raised in the South, who was the first in his family to marry a woman of color. Then the couple had a baby girl, a mixed-race child in the South, and questions of belonging and assimilation became exponentially more complicated. “He’s well aware of the sadness of this place,” the author writes of her husband, “how lonely it must be for me—an outsider who married someone who also feels like an outsider.” He says that it kills him to know that here, I talk, but without the freedom to speak about topics that interest me.” Though childbirth brought emotional trauma and postpartum depression, it also opened the creative floodgates. “My body had given birth to a human, but my body also wanted to expel something more,” writes Barnes. “It wanted to flush out the accumulation of hurt and sorrow and fear, three things all immigrants pack with them….My memories let out onto paper and bled onto the page as words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs.” Those paragraphs became essays, and those collected here have enough cohesion and continuity that they could almost pass as a second volume of memoir.
A sturdy transitional volume that finds Barnes reflecting on her first and anticipating her next.