A young essayist’s memoir of her extraordinary riches-to-rags childhood in the Philippines.
Barnes was not yet 3 when her family moved into the Mansion Royale, “a stately home in a post-Spanish, post-American, and newly post-Marcos democracy.” Bought with her mother’s inherited wealth and her international businessman father’s hard-won gains, the house represented everything “glitter, gold, and glam.” But cracks soon began to appear in the family’s fairy-tale life. The author’s beautiful mother lost a baby and became subject to mood swings and violent fits of rage, and a “war between Uncle Sam and Saddam Hussein” in the Middle East caused her father’s business to founder. Desperate to shore up their finances, her parents used the last of their capital to transform the mansion into an events pavilion they rented out to film companies and wealthy families. Then an epic monsoon flooded the home and ruined it. Barnes’ father left the Philippines to rebuild his business while her increasingly unstable mother soon took up with a social climber named Norman, who beat her and used the mansion as a site for cockfighting and prostitution. Forced to fend for themselves, Barnes and her brother, Paolo, ran a student taxi to bring in food money only to have their mother force them to turn over the business to her lover. Meanwhile, Norman became involved with a guerrilla group in a failed attempt to build a political name for himself while the author’s mother continued to support him. Eventually rescued from the mansion by Paolo, Barnes went to live with a stepsister, and, at 12 years old, she finally found “mercy in the mundane” life that had eluded her. In this tender and eloquent tale, the author plumbs the depths of family dysfunction while telling a harrowing story of survival graced by moments of unexpected magic.
A lyrically heartfelt memoir of resilience in the face of significant obstacles.