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Eating Fire and Drinking Water

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  667 ratings  ·  46 reviews
"I was someone hungry for stories; more specifically, I was someone who craved after facts. I was, you see, a person with no history. Lacking this, I developed a curiosity about other's people's stories. . . ."

Clara Perez is a reporter on a small South seas island. An orphan raised by nuns, she is a young woman with origins shrouded in mystery. Full of idealistic ambition,
Paperback, 350 pages
Published January 26th 2011 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Jr Bacdayan
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
To say that this book affected me is an understatement. It not only affected, not merely touched me. It spoke to me, pierced me, beckoned me and stirred my very being. Arlene J. Chai's lyrical novel of self discovery and revolution is one that would affect any human being. More so as a Filipino, more so as a student of the State University, more so as a student activist, more so as a student activist searching for himself. It was as if this book was written for me, as if I was meant to pick it u ...more
“We can fight fire with water provided we can get it there soon enough. But often we act when it’s too late. The result is splattered in the pages of our history: bloodbaths, uprisings, revolutions, you name it. And on it goes. We learn so slowly. After so many centuries, we’re still a people who eat fire and drink water.”

~From EATING FIRE AND DRINKING WATER by Arlene J. Chai, 1996.

#ReadtheWorld21 📍 Philippines

This story is about chaos. It's that moment right before lightening strikes. It's abou
After reading this, I stood and let myself wallow in the silence as goosebumps dotted my arms. I didn’t want to talk to anyone then—I just wanted to ponder on what I have read, impressed at the way things worked sometimes. I had bought this book because it was on sale, but was really hesitant on purchasing it at first because I didn’t have much money with me then. But I bought it anyway, because I’m really impulsive that way. And look at where it brought me. It changed me in so many ways that I ...more
Apr 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I really enjoyed Chai's first book 'The Last Time I Saw Mother', so I was pleased to find a copy of her second book. Although there are some similarities between the two - first person female narrator, complex family dynamics and a past full of secrets - the story is also political. Set on an island in the South Pacific, Chai is very deliberate in never giving the actual name of the country or the dictator (whom she calls El Presidente). It's a very interesting choice, but for those who are fami ...more
Gerene Leal
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
While there are plenty of novels that told the story of people’s lives during wars and revolutions, Arlene J. Chai’s Eating Fire and Drinking Water, however, tells the story of how characters lived at a time when a revolution is yet to begin.
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book made me realize that I don't know much about my country's history. haha. ...more
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a study of the beginning of a revolution against entrenched power, how misuse of that power eventually creates a groundswell of change.
Overlaid is the story of the narrator's own journey of discovery into her origins, also shrouded by the misuse of power, this time on a personal level.
A fascinating read.
Nov 23, 2010 rated it really liked it

Set against the backdrop of an emerging rebellion, a struggling young reporter rushes to a fire in a small street in the city to write about what happened. Little did she know that the circumstances of her birth are intertwined with the story she would be writing.

So goes the story of Clara Perez. Written in the first person, this book tells stories within a story. I would like to remark again on the author's brilliant recollection of historical events that was the background of this novel, and s
Arlene Chai is a Filipino-Chinese author who migrated to Australia during the political chaos in 1982. Due to her martial law experience, she is known for her skills in weaving the political problem in the Philippines to her fictions. 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 Ma
Fral Buison
Oct 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ervin Patrick
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Amazing! I read Chai's first book, The Last Time I Saw Mother, before but I enjoyed this one far far far far better than that! In this second novel, everything seemed to scatter everywhere at first, but the author, Arlene J. Chai, adroitly gathered each piece and formed a marvelous whole! - a marvelous story of relationships, history, politics, revolution, etc. Yes! Chai captured these pieces and put them inside a small book! - There's no such thing as a small story! Though there was a part that ...more
Beverly Valencia
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I bought this expecting a latin american set-up but I was surprised to read a rich historical fiction set against the Marcos era (It's a guessing game, but so very obvious). You know it's a good book when something inside you is shaken by the concepts presented. And I was shaken by Luis Bayani, the plight of the social class (reminds me of Sinclair) and Clara's search for identity. Now I need to read a 'happier' book. ...more
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
I got a glimpse of my country's history, which, apparently, I wasn't aware of. Haha. ...more
Joan Paula
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fathi Rayyan
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Eating Fire and Drinking Water is a story about Clara Perez, a junior reporter with origins shrouded in mystery, set in a dying day of a despotic regime. But this story is also about a man’s act of kindness that changes the lives of many, a woman who bleeds from the wounds of Christ, a man whose name is Pride; and a corrupt leader and his wife’s imeldific lifestyle, a colonel and a young man.

While there are plenty of stories about people’s lives during wars and revolutions, this book tells the s
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Woah this book was woah. After reading The Last Time I Saw Mother, I wanted to read more of Arlene J. Chai. Her writing was so detailed, so beautiful, and so creative. The way she tells the story of her characters is so intricate and pulls you in immediately. This book was different from TLTISM. This book was slow paced and should be read carefully. This is due to the vast characters at play, making their mark across Clara Perez’s story. The first few pages was a slow read, but then the story pr ...more
Nicole Elaine
Mar 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing

While I was reading this, I felt it. I felt the people beside me, heads held high, and fists raised to the sky. I started this book with the expectation that this will be a novel of unveiling someone's identity, but I was gifted with something more. Something I will carry as long as I live. I have seen the world of the poor, the rich, and those who are in between. I have heard the song of the river. I have felt the land move. I have met Luis, Laslo, and Clara. I have seen them i
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting mixture of contemporary life in a fictional island dictatorship, with an old fashioned style of writing. Told by a young woman, a reporter for the local paper, who gets caught up in a student demonstration that brings out the army and leads to the death of a man who has been her secret benefactor. This leads to revelations about her birth and abandonment, not the big assignment she had been hoping for. Brutal torture and violent clashes between demonstrators and officials of the r ...more
Ren Bande
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This one is an underrated gem. I think every Filipino should read this atleast once in their lifetime. This was so beautifully-written that I had to pause before reading the last chapter just to take everything in.

This book contains many “feels” inducing passages and learnings. I will never get over how Arlene Chai was able to introduce every character deeply; so deep, that the characters will remain engraved on every readers’ hearts.
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good shit. A really insightful and gritty look into a point of darkness in the country and something that sets that patriotic flame ablaze. But such is not a destructive fire, but rather, a rejuvenating one.

"After so many centuries, we are still people who eat fire and drink water."

"Why bother then?"

"Because we have to believe that one day we'll learn."
xueh wei
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the way this book was written - somehow the dramatic telenovella writing style worked really well for the unfolding of this story. It also had all the elements I liked: a story of family, student uprising, & overthrowing of the government!

Read this with LiteraSEA Book Club. (May or may not write a longer review later)
Mwerevu Hajinyoi
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved the memoir style the author chose to write this novel in. The story stayed with me for months even after reading it, simply because I have been thinking about revolutions and change lately.
Paul Caymhart
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Historical yet entertaining book.
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Eating Fire and Drinking Water is about the story of Clara Perez, a newspaper reporter, who has no personal history. As she hits the road to another supposedly ‘routine’ assignment, she tangles herself on succeeding events that leads her to untangling the real complexity of who she really is. As the setting is set on a nation’s tumultuous era, her story’s link to the country’s influential and important people, the novel is all about the interconnectedness of our stories to one another whether we ...more
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If I could recommend only one book (to anyone who'll listen), this would be it. This book ripped my heart out, tore it to pieces and then made me whole again. Ja feel?

This book is about a 23-year-old journalist, Clara Perez, who gets assigned to what she thinks is a throwaway story. Except it's not, because it's what leads her to uncover the truth about her missing history. But it's not just about her. The other characters in this book--radical students who fight for reform, a president who's b
Mar 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Arlene J. Chai was required reading in grade school and I was supposed to write a book report on The Last Time I Saw Mother but I never finished it (business as usual, haha). Both her novels have been sitting at the back of my bookshelf for like 10 years, though, and I'm kind of in a Read All The Books In My Bookshelf campaign.

Re: Eating Fire and Drinking Water - I had a hard time ploughing through part 1 because I had a lot of issues with the writing and the perspective shifts, but I guess hist
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It is a story of a writer who doesn't have a history of her own, as the story unravels, the truth about her past is revealed and the connection of all the other characters confirmed the long-standing theory that everything and everyone comes full circle. The dark, murky past of Philippines was not just draped as the background of the story but it was every bit of the stage were all characters danced their story. The characters, the plot, the twists and turns are too familiar and history textbook ...more
This book was so, so good! It would make for a good movie - it even reminds me of Heneral Luna with its suggestive themes, violence, and relevance to Philippine history.

This book isn't solely about Clara, the main character. No, it was written so it would be about all of the characters. Everyone was somehow related to each other - which is why I decided to make a summary for each of the characters instead of for the whole story.

Luis Bayani said that life isn't linear; it's a cycle wherein everyo
Roice Tayag
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I bought this book two years ago, read a few pages; but due to unforeseen circumstances, I never got the chance to finish it. Now, after a long time, I was given the much-awaited opportunity to pick up from where I left off.

I'm glad I grabbed that opportunity. This piece of literature is wonderfully written as well as life-changing. Arlene Chai has done an astounding job of crafting a story not far from our own, intact with reality, devoid of all the purple prose. A story with words simple but
Tracy Ng
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Stumbled upon this book not knowing what to expect. I did not even know that the backdrop was set in my own country! I was drawn to it by the contrasting phrase of the title but this book proved to be more than that. Every decision, every second - each one counts. It awakens a part of you that you have tried to ignore long ago. It urges you to do your part, no matter how big or small, to be a better person so as to contribute to the betterment of the society, moving forward a nation as a whole.
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Arlene J. Chai (b. 1955) is a Filipino-Chinese-Australian who migrated to Australia with her parents and sisters in 1982 because of the political upheaval. She became an advertising copywriter at George Patterson's advertising agency in 1972 and has been working there since. It is there that she met her mentor Bryce Courtney, who continuously inspires her to improve her work.

She won the Louis Bra

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