Title: In the Country: Stories
Author: Mia Alvar
Published by: Knopf
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
This book was such a wonderful surprise. In the Country is Mia Alvar’s first book and it ended up on my to-read list after seeing it recommended somewhere online, I can’t even remember where. I am so glad I ended up picking it up.
In the Country is a collection of stories that focus on the Philippine diaspora and the tenuous connections between people. Each story features different characters and families but questions of family piety, class, catholicism, marriage, capitalism and the service economy reverberate through out the book. At its heart, In the Country asks ‘who’s bodies are valued?’, telling stories of the class gap between Philippine workers in Bahrain, a American doctor who returns back to his childhood home to find his mother continuing to wait hand and foot on his dying father, a young woman trying to figure out her major in university while struggling as a scholarship student.
There are two stories in particular that completely blew me away, elevating this book to a four star review. “Esmerelda” tells a story of finding love when you don’t expect it and pushing it away in fear, only to have the world shatter around you with the events of 9/11. “In the Country” is the longest story in the collection but holds its weight, telling the story of the strain of doing journalism under a dictatorship on a couple’s relationship. I loved how this story followed the couple from when they met to years later when they had children, demonstrating the impact of the strain of how the regime continuously impacted their lives. It’s also a story about the difference between motherhood and fatherhood, and one that was very hard to swallow, where women become mothers after giving birth but having a child doesn’t necessarily translate into being a ‘father’ to some men. It absolutely wrecked me when I learnt the significance of the phrase in the country, and I’m still reminiscing on these stories days after having finished the book.
In the Country is an incredible debut and I highly recommend that people go pick it up.