Barbara's Reviews > Banana Heart Summer

Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis
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's review
Dec 30, 2008

really liked it

I'm about halfway through this book, and so far it's such an interesting story. Nining, the protagonist/heroine is really a very sweet girl. The story is told from her point of view, in retrospect; that is, her older self is retelling the story, and this would account for the kind of language that I am pretty sure a poor, 12 year old girl in the Philippines with a middle school education would not use.

Merlinda Bobis's language is very poetic, and I think this is appropriate, as I knew of her as a poet before she published books of prose. As well, I think Nining's older self, who is 20 years older and living abroad, recalls her childhood with an almost predictable nostalgia for the homeland she's left.

The neighborhood in which she grow up is very self-contained, with its regular fisherman selling his catch, the tindahans, the poor families' little homes squished in between the wealthy families' larger homes. The neighborhood is also well-contained metaphorically, with the large imposing Catholic church at one end, and the volcano at the opposite end; the people have lived and continue to live squished in between the colonizer's God and their native deity.

The narrative of Nining's life is, again, well-contained within the book's structure of a recipe or particular food item per chapter title. So Bobis provides us with all of these neat containers, and I don't really have a complaint about this. It's neat, and it's meticulous. My only complaint so far is that there must be a way to write food preparation in the narrative without sounding like the instructional portion of the recipe. As it stands, these instructions are inconsistent with the lush, vivid, beautiful, mostly childlike descriptions of the land, the people, the food, the human interactions.

The last thing I will say for now is that this book is about the girl's hunger. There is the physical hunger as she is the eldest daughter of a very, very poor and large family. As the eldest daughter, there is also the hunger to help support the family as her ineffectual and emasculated father cannot do so. Then there is Nining's hunger to win her mother's love, her mother being this rage-filled woman, who curses her fate for having been disowned by her wealthy family for getting knocked up by the poor stonemason, and who views and treats Nining as the manifestation of this fate.

[Additional thoughts upon finishing the book are here:]
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