I smiled to myself while I was reading this book. It reminded me of all the provincial things I had experienced in my childhood before my parents decided that we live in Manila: the surroundings I lived in such as the trees laden with fruits or the trees my friends and I would climb afternoons, all the kinds of animals and insects I would catch such as colorful dragonflies, butterflies, and ladybugs hovered above the riots of flowers in our garden or in someone’s wide Bermuda’s grass, sparrows that laid eggs up in betel-nut palm trees, beetles feasted on leaves by shaking trees’ branches to make them fall for exotic food, snails on the swampy farms for dinner, fishes in the river my brother and I would catch afternoons, frogs I would kill in cold blood for the heck of fun ( that’s why they are my phobia now.) and so on; the people who shaped my personality now like my grandparents who loved me so much, but hated me for always retching on a trip , my mother’s youngest sister who would spend time hunting in the woods with me, my mother’s other sisters who were so mean to me sometimes because I was so pesky and her lenient brother who always pampered me , my relatives who were so dear to me especially aunt Diana, my first grade classmates who never intended to befriend me ,for I was the object of fun and bully, my cousin living next to our house whom I also bullied sometimes, the first girl I had a crush on for she was the smartest and prettiest student in our class, the old women I was scared to talk to because of how they looked like at their old age, my first teachers who scorned me for being a slow learner, my godparents whom I gave respect to with “mano po” and to name a few; the traditional customs and celebrations I observed such as the wedding ceremonies where everyone no matter where you were from was invited to a grand banquet and its eve before the couple tied the knot was even a special gala , for I enjoyed watching a bevy of beauties dancing with their partners, funeral wakes observed with superstitions I had to conform to and the death anniversary prepared with a lot of traditional foods after a long, long solemn prayer, the Christmas and New Year celebrations that are not as luxurious as here in Manila but special because people helped one another to prepare food they would share with one another, the warm hospitality shown to someone who comes from Manila in the notion that people living in Manila are rich, the paw-it delivered and envied by the neighbors; and my very own garden I built by myself behind our nipa- hut-like house when I was still in my first grade, the product of my childish imagination, the garden I always tended to everyday in that my neighbor could not believe their eyes that a young boy like me could create such thing , the garden where I created my own childish world because I would always talk and pray to the plants and flowers as of what my parents and aunts reminded me lately. There are so many, many things in the novel redolent of my provincial childhood that I want to tell more, but it would no longer be a book review if I went further. I’m afraid that you don’t understand this nostalgia trip if you did not grow up in a countryside.
The story is about Isabel Marques, the matriarch of the family , turning her 100th birthday , recollecting how she grew up as a typical girl who was a bit boyish and snobbish so her parents could no longer stand her obstinacy to marry whoever man fixed up with her. While casting her mind back to those cherished memories, she still has a hard time recognizing the people around her, especially her children who have established their own family. At the same time, she tends to be flooded with remorse, pains, and pure nostalgia for the people who had a great impact on her.
Aside from the rural things that worked up my nostalgia for the good old days, there are many elements in the story that sparkled my interest:
First: Isabel Marques’ characterization as a centenarian mother. She best describes herself that there is no such a perfect mother. All mothers no matter how loving they are in nature can have shortcomings. They can have their favorite child to whom they will pay their attention. They can be cruel to their children because what on their mind are the things that can help their children grow better than they are. So, at the end of the day, mothers are mothers: they are willing to die for their children. In fact, her story reminds me of American psychologist Erich Erickson’s theory of psycho-social development. She limns the typical changes in our life as we grow older in terms of social, emotional, and physical aspects.
Third: The cultural heritage of the setting place. The story took place in Ilocos Norte in the northern part of Luzon, one of the national heritage of the Philippines. Here we can see some vestiges of the Spanish culture such as the architecture, beliefs, values, customs, dialect, and government. The era may be in the Spanish/ American regime . So I felt like I was going back to the generation of my great-grandparents. To emphasize the regionalism of the atmosphere, the author even added some Ilocano dialogues which made me brush upon the dialect I had grown to learn before I became an urban boy.
Finally: The symbol of the Golden Rain Tree growing up in front of Isabel’s room.
Golden Rain Trees are famous for its abundant yellow flowers. They look golden when they glow in the sunlight. The flowers fall and beautify around the trees. The trees grow in temperate countries like the Philippines.
The tree is personified as the main character’s imaginary friend, for it has witnessed the kaleidoscopic phases of her life: her bitter and sweet memories, the tragedies her families had gone through and so on. The way the author described the tree in the story enables me to have deeper connection. Perhaps, I love gardening. Perhaps, I love Golden trees too, for I can no longer see such trees in our village,for I would make garlands of these flowers when I was young.
It appears that this novel is not that famous. It was published in 1996 when hyping someone’s work was not that in a larger scale. So, I hope this novel will be given a chance to be republished; it is really worth reading. It is not just about the deepest meaning of life but also a history, a history that reflects Ilocano life during the burgeoning golden years of our history. 🙂
Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it.)