“These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again.
In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined.”
To call this collection powerful doesn’t feel enough of a recommendation to read them. Like in the synopsis, these stand alone short stories are unforgettable especially in today’s time where immigration is debated all over the media. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, the heart of these stories is the basic human search to find our authentic selves and live a life to the best of our abilities.
Yes, there are elements of political upheaval, holding onto culture in a new country, struggling to provide, and achieving status as Expats within the Filipino culture. But aside from this view into a culture unlike my own, I felt that each story had a common thread of humanity. Stories like these build up the empathy vault and are necessary in the grand scheme of things.
In “The Miracle Worker” (one of my favorites), Sally Riva’s background as a special education teacher in the Philippines puts her as the perfect candidate to work with Mrs. Mansour’s daughter Aroush in Bahrain. Aroush’s rare combination of cerebral palsy and Recklinghausen’s disease keeps her hidden and out of public view. This story touched on so many topics: the value of human life, disabilities, social structure (maids/teachers/elite), the barrier of language, a crumbling marriage, expectations and honesty vs. fantasy. Sally, like many special education teachers, wants to give the parents hope and yet finds that much of the positive feedback is just a veil to the truth.
“A kind of paradise was what she paid me for, after all: the dream of Aroush’s bright future. She replaced the sunglasses atop her cheekbones, a warning I understood: that whatever I wished to illuminate, she was happy in the dark. What I had thought of as deception was my duty.”
The longest story of the collection with the shared title “In The Country”, is one that had me holding my breath as a nurse named Milagros fights for equal rights in the workplace. She meets reporter Jaime Reyes at one of the strikes and their story is hopeful and heartbreaking. Their struggle to find the balance between political activism and family life is one I will not forget.
It’s hard to believe this is a debut collection. Alvar has a bright future because while the writing is beautiful and profound the stories are accessible and resonant. They aren’t linked nor do they have to be read in order. Each one powerfully stands on their own and even the reluctant short story reader will take away something valuable.