Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai: A Book Review

arlene1Arlene Chai is a Filipino-Chinese author who migrated to Australia during the political chaos in 1982. She is known for her skills in weaving the political problem in the Philippines in her fictions due largely to her martial law experience. Her first novel THE LAST TIME I SAW MOTHER became a best-seller in Australia ,and was eventually published in the USA, the UK, and the Philippines.

The style of the story is very typical of a Filipino novel. It deals with the regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos as well as the modern socio-political culture and values at that time. The story primarily centers around the self-discovery of the main character, Clara Perez, an amateur newspaper reporter, about the origin of herself. Then, she will be involved in the political life of the activist Luis Bayani.

Obviously, Arlene J. Chai wants to depict the political life of the late President Marcos, along with former First Lady Imelda Marcos although Chai does not directly refer to them. But through her characters, plots, and settings, I could guess their representation:

1. El Presidente = The late President Ferdinand Marcos
2. Madam= Former First Lady Imelda Marcos. In the novel, she is depicted as “imeldific”.
3. Loyola University= it could be Ateneo de Manila University or University of the Philippines-Diliman
4. Lacson Bridge= The bridge across the Pasig River
5. Smokey Mountain= Payatas Dumpsite
6. Colonel Aure=he could represent the butchers of Marcos.
7. Luis Bayani= He could be Benigno Aquino Sr. However; he does not completely resemble him. It must be a twist or other heroic figure at that time.

What I liked about this novel is that it has many beautiful passages. It only proves that Chai has what it takes to be a good writer. However, the only problem is the plots of the story. There are some garden-variety parts which I found hackneyed. They appear to be “deadwoods “and “hedging words’ which lost my excitement. I guess I ‘m almost familiar with them such as telltales, legends, a part that an aristocratic mother hates a beautiful poor girl whom her son will fall for, or a part that a child was adopted by a covenant of nuns, and blah blah blah. Uhmmm. I understand that these kinds of situations are very common in the Philippine culture, but patawarin ako( forgive me) , I’m fed up with them. I wish she had focused on the topic about the Martial Law. If it were not its cute, feminine, and colorful paperback, I would not have  been  driven to finish it. ^^

Rating : 2/ 5 stars


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