Recuerdo is an epistolary novel consisted of messages sent through email. The messages all came from Amanda, a middle-aged widow, to her daughter Marisa, a university student. Amanda is in Bangkok while Marisa is in Manila. Writing letters is Amanda's way of sorting out her life and helping Marisa understand their family' past. Amanda use her own mother's (Isabel) stories in many of these letters. This way of storytelling resulted to a "Dynasty in Cyberspace" against a backdrop that juxtaposes two entirely different cultures: the first being superstitious while the other sophisticated. Such stories leave the readers a fascinating effect ---- for it would have been our own ancestors' story if we have the courage to dig them all up. Hidalo has been very firm abut her stand on this particular novel, it isn't realistic nor does it have any attempt on realism ---- it is a romantic novel. Fellow writer Ophelia Dimalanta supports Hidalgo as she says in her review of Recuerdo, that readers might have the tendency of commenting on the contravening of some degree of verisimilitude in the narrating o the stories rendered through letters which come regularly and with such contrived continuity and incessantness. Clearly, Dimalanta's response is a way of reinforcing Hidalgo's claim of Recuerdo being a romantic novel.
I taught this novel three or four times in the late 90s into the early 2000s. A historical novel in the form of e-mails, which is a very Filipino format even fifteen years ago. Hidalgo's narrator traces her ancestry, mainly the female side, back and forth from Spanish colonial days to the present. There are wonderful vingnettes, like the woman that faced down some unruly Filipino independence fighters. Largely through such scenes, the author covers much of modern Philippine history in dramatic fashion. Students, most of whom were not literature or history majors, loved it.
I’m really drawn to mother/child narratives. Maybe it’s because I’m close to my mom (“I am my mother’s child”), and I wonder how our relationship compares to fictional ones. For illumination or for validation. Recuerdo is a series of emails sent by Amanda, an overseas worker in Bangkok, to her daughter Risa in Manila, neatly compiled to tell a story of one family spanning five generations and their collective/individual struggles of identity and belongingness amidst a changing nation. Appreciated how fully-realized the different family arcs were (some I even wish were a completely separate novel). Though I find that this often undermines the present arc between Amanda and Risa. Though the whole email aspect was inert still I think the epistolary format made this a more empathic read.
(I’m also reminded of another generational saga I read earlier this year, The Family Ki, which is also great)
I felt an instant bolt of emotional connection to this book because of its well-crafted stories that beam with the Spanish colonial period and Philippine modern history references. The first half part of the book builds the sensation leading to the middle part, which consists some of the most interesting topics tackled by the narrator—romance in the time of uncertainties and war, the roles of women (depending on their social statuses), and some fragments of essays and poems clipped to support a few storylines.