Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Last Time I Saw Mother” as Want to Read:
The Last Time I Saw Mother
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Last Time I Saw Mother

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,428 ratings  ·  116 reviews
"AN OFTEN LYRICAL AND ALWAYS TOUGH-MINDED DEBUT . . . Provides rare insight into the three cultures--Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino--that coexist in the Philippines."
--The New York Times Book Review

Caridad's mother never writes. So when a letter arrives for her in Sydney from Manila, Caridad doesn't even recognize her mother's handwriting. There is more distance than just
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 13th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published July 30th 1996)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Last Time I Saw Mother, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Sarah Gabornes Caridad lives in Sydney with her family. It has been a long time since the last time she visited her homeland-- the Philippines. She writes to her cou…moreCaridad lives in Sydney with her family. It has been a long time since the last time she visited her homeland-- the Philippines. She writes to her cousin/ best friend Mia, and it has been a long time since the last times since she wrote to her mother. And her mother to her. Until that one day when she was summoned to come home. Her mother wants to talk to her.

She went home, finding out that the place where she grew up did not change that much. Since her father died, her mother wanted things to stay as they were, so the memories will at least be preserved. When she visited her mother Thelma in her room, she was told that she was not her child.

The beginning of Caridad's story was told by her biological mother, Emma. It was mostly about the war years: How their family suffered through hunger and poverty and how their family found happiness on simple things. Though facing dark and tough times, their lives were somehow colored with the presence of their father Alfonso. But everything changed with his passing, and Caridad's birth three weeks after her father died. It was then revealed that Thelma offered to raise the child as her own.

Ligaya then tells Caridad that Thelma offered to raise Caridad and provide for her in exchange of financial support for Emma and her family until the children can make lives for themselves. But Ligaya's story was now more on how she married her husband for money, not for love. It was to help her family out of poverty, but Enrique, her husband has always known this.

The last person to tell the story was Thelma. Hers was a story of a middle-twenties woman who was married to a wealthy Chinese family who struggled not only to belong on their family but also to provide an heir for her husband. A child was brought to her home, not knowing that Raoul, her husband had a lovechild with his office mate. When the child dies, she lost her faith on God. But not soon after, her brother-in-law died, and sees the opportunity to take from Emma her youngest.

Thelma asked forgiveness for what she had done. But she sees it as a good deed, as she was able to give not only Caridad a good life, but also gave a good future for her siblings.

Caridad get all the answers to her questions and forgives her mother. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,428 ratings  ·  116 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Last Time I Saw Mother
Nov 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Way better than I thought it would be. =))
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it
A conversation between a mother and her teenage daughter:

Daughter: "Mom, am I adopted?"

Mother: "Of course not. What made you think that?"

D: "Aunt Lucy said that I don't look like you or Dad."

M: "That's because you take after both of us. Our features are thoroughly mixed in you that if you smile, your lips spread thinly like mine, but when you're serious, your lips purse like Dad's."

D: "You're really sure I'm not adopted?"

M: "A hundred percent sure. Even a million. I gave birth to you, or have yo
Teri Pardue
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The word itself creates an empty sensation. Try saying it now. "Why?" Notice how your tongue touches nothing when you form the word with your mouth. Feel the gap, the space inside your mouth, that it created. The air. It is a place that needs filling. It is missing an answer" (p. 56).

I'm giving this book five stars, not because it's the most profound book I've ever read. It's not the most well written or poetic. But wow, it will stay with me for a long time! There were points, while reading abo
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
"It is the way life is. Like a wheel that turns, sometimes it misses you,sometimes it crushes you. At times life gives and at times it takes away. And each day you wake up and breathe and live is but another day's reprieve from death."-pg.153

"In the evenings, the dark hides the ugliness, but daylight forces us to live in a nightmare."-pg.154

These are just two of the quotes that make up this beautifully written debut, a tale told through the perspectives of a few different female relatives effect
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Two stars for "it's okay, but not very good." This novel had potential, but the storyline feels half-baked, bogged down in the life stories of several different characters with identical voices.

Caridad is 40 years old and living as an immigrant in Australia when her mother summons her home to the Philippines to tell her the truth about her parentage. The novel is told in the first person by four narrators: Caridad, her mother Thelma, her aunt Emma, and her cousin Ligaya. [It’s always weird when
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All Filipinos of my generation - mainly female
My rating of this book is definitely influenced of my appreciation for the content, but it is very well written too. My Auntie Gay gave me this book for Christmas in 1999! I JUST finished reading it and have a new perspective on what it was like for my parents and aunts and uncles to grow up in the Philippines. This is a "must read" for filipino females of my generation. ...more
Tracy Smyth
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was quite a good read. I did enjoy it
Carla Arriola
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am once again reunited with my favorite book of all time, “The Last Time I Saw Mother” by Arlene Chai. This is a very good book. It’s like having an intimate talk with a friend, as she slowly unveils the story of the four most powerful female characters she has ever met in her entire life. Something about this book never ceases to appeal to me. Perhaps it’s because of the fact that the author didn’t fail to capture the humanity and heroism of women from so many generations, upholding family tr ...more
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Compelling and touching. It made me tear up more than a few times.

I started reading this before, when I was way younger because I got curious why my sister bought it, and I stopped reading after a few pages because I got bored but thinking about it now, it's mainly because I'm drawn into a different kind of book or genre way back then. And this afternoon, without anything to do, I decided to start reading it again. I got hooked that I finished front to back in one seating.

I like the way the trut
Cassie Chan
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I found this book on one of my sister's shelves, and I'm surprised at the rate that I find books with this genre. I've just finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha and this one pops up.

Honestly, I read most of this in one day, but I couldn't help but admit that I couldn't read smoothly for I had to stop and take deep breaths and look at the way my life is today. Also, some of the emotions that they felt in the story might have had a bit of similarity to the few hardships that I've been through (or
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
The writing is nice and the story flows well. The problem's with the characters and the plot. If this was meant to introduce non-Filipinos to Filipino culture and history, sure, but maybe for most Filipinos, it would be too reminiscent of the typical soap aired on TV. The characters too are rather bland or one-dimensional, maybe except for Thelma and Ligaya, but Ligaya was annoying and told a lot of stuff not really relevant to the story.
Also, I especially disliked how the author tried to inser
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Had a hard time putting this book down! I didn't expect a detailed depiction from the time of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. Just. Wow. ✨ ...more
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I found when I tried to go to the second-hand bookshop.
Actually, I choose this book (which only cost me 10.000 rupiahs at 2000) because its condition was still good.
The cover still looked smooth, it looked just as a new book.
But after reading it, I really really thankful for decision to buy that book :D (10 rebu jaman kuliah gethuw)
The story is about a Philipine Woman – I think she was Chinese most of the time-, who moved to Australia with her husband. She always fell som
Aug 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Real rating: 3.5

This book is one of favorites now. The story is a purely great one about a family told by a generation of Filipino women and each of their unique stories. Emma's tells the story of the Philippines during WWII, Ligaya's story is about the struggles she faced in her early teenage years, and Thelma's story is about a married woman's life. Caridad is the woman who brings all these stories together.

I rated it a 3.5 because it's a book I wouldn't normally read and that lowered a litt
Samantha Oledan
So many twists.
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Careful! Spoilers below!

There comes a time in one’s life when he realizes that his feeling of uncertainty about himself has become a gaping hole in his life. In response to this, his first instinct is to try to run away from the hole as best he can. For many years, he convinces himself to believe that if he runs a little bit faster or a tiny bit farther, that hole will disappear. But, as we know, this never works, no matter how much we try to believe it will. And in time, we face the fact that t
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know more about Filipino culture and history, especially to high-school students
"I have been given a gift. The gift of my past. And with it has come a lesson. I have learned that the telling of the truth—the act—is where the answer lies. It is what I need to do in my own life. It is no easy thing to do. It is an act of courage."

This book is just... wow. A very powerful story that spans four generations. If you haven't read this, read it now. It would show you the power of our actions, even small ones.

At first, I was reluctant to read this book. I have seen it in NBS for a l
Basic Bookish
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Last Time I Saw Mother is a powerful story of what it means to be a woman in love, riches, poverty, war, and secrecy. Caridad goes home from Sydney to the Philippines when her mother writes her a letter admonishing her to do so. During this trip, she uncovers the life of three women: Mama Thelma, Tia Emma, and cousin Ligaya, the culmination of which was her adoption into her mother's family.

These three women had powerful stories to tell and strong motives for their actions, which didn't alwa
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’ve had a copy of this book since July last year but only got around to reading it yesterday – I couldn’t put it down. After months on my bookshelf, it only took me a few hours to devour its pages.

The reason it took me so long is because I had read Eating Fire and Drinking Water first back in 2018 and I loved it SO MUCH. Knowing that Arlene Chai had written this first and it had brought her recognition, I really wanted to like it too... and I do!

It’s the thought-provoking and deeply moving hist
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I sailed through this. Simply and beautifully written. It reminded me of The Joy Luck Club, mainly because it's about the experiences of four different women and the impact that their country's cultural and political circumstances had on their lives. It's broken into different sections, each narrated by one of the four females who have different perspectives on one sad story that spans decades. I loved how the perception I had of one character was vastly changed when I read their story from thei ...more
Kimberly Ann
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Caridad, separated from her husband, is living with her daughter Marla (a pianist) in Sydney. When Caridad receives the letter from her mother stating: "Come home Caridad. I need to speak to you. Mama", she catches the first flight back to Manila, Philippines.

There, Caridad is told the secrets of her life, in three parts by Mama Thelma, Tia Emma, & Cousin Ligaya. Each only telling their own part in Caridad's life with the admonishment referring to the others: "I can not tell you more, it is her
Nicole Elaine
Mar 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philippine-gems
4 and 1/2 stars

It's astonishing, really, how the message of the title changes as you read more and more. At first, I thought it was the death of her mother (because it was explicitly told in the title) but I was surprised that it holds something more...something like a nostalgic bell which faint ringing becomes clearer as you approach it. The story is intriguing and will make you want for more, but I felt like it provided more historical views than needed, which sometimes overpowers the real sto
Jazz Keep Reading
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The story is about Caridad and how she discovered the truths about her life. It is told in an interesting way that sometimes I think it really happened.

I think I loved the book because the setting is so familiar to me. Every time the places are mentioned it felt so close. I can imagine how my country looks that time. I also enjoyed the historical touch in the story.

It describes a lot about us, Filipino. It tells story about how we survived the war during those times and also how the things that
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"For I see now that no matter how different our lives may seem, the lessons we need to learn are the same. Every life is about making of choices. Do we choose to love or hate, resent or forgive, hurt or heal, run or be brave?"

- this made me want to read more Historical Fiction books set in the Philippines. Not only they teach a lot about Historical events, but they also show it through the eyes of common Filipinos and offer an insight to the society decades ago. What are the values and practices
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Man this book was so good. This story is about 4 women and how their lives are interwoven. Family secrets intertwine with the history of the Philippines in the Japanese occupation. The story of Caridad is one of hapiness, sadness, love, hate, and forgiveness. There were times that surprised me because I didn’t expect it to be true like the stories from the Japanese occupation- about the De La Salle College. I felt like a nosy neighbor at the same time a friend, reading through their stories and ...more
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i flew through this in one day... which i now regret because i wish i savored each page and allowed the story to spend more time in my mind.

i loved the writing—it was beautiful at accessible. i also found it very compelling and engaging, hence my binge-reading of the novel LOL

i also loved that it managed to cover important periods in our country’s history, and deftly discussed the struggles faced by the Filipinos during that period

one issue i have though is that the narrative voices of the four
Catherine Ann
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A well-written story full of truths a lot of us can learn from.
1- Listening
2- Understanding the past to guide us through a better future
3- we all have different "truths", from our own perspective. And yet all these are all true; not one more true than the others. It is our personal truth.

Most times, it is in learning from the past that we are able to better decide on how we can move forward and live a life for ourselves.

Lastly, this book makes me proud of Filipino writers. A good read. P
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful story about family/female relationships, forgiveness and keeping a family together. I also especially appreciated learning more about the Philippines, as well as their experience during the war. Great characters who all had their own way of dealing with loss and destruction. Also liked the idea that looking back they all could see that they did the best they could with what they had at the time and to forgive each other as best they can, because holding onto the hate did no one any goo ...more
Ghee Luna
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I think, the way the story has been delivered to the readers is genius, being able to lay each character’s biography linking to the facts of history reimagined. It is a flavorful history book which will never bore you while discovering things from the past through the eyes of Caridad, Thelma, Emma and Ligaya. Reading this book, to me, felt like diving in to a baul of memories I found from an old house’s bodega, and each treasure inside bears a huge weight of important stories. One of the best bo ...more
Xerez Vera
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
An average opening bookended by a strong finish, beautiful and vibrant storytelling of the American, Japanese occupation until the Marcos dictatorship especially with the use of three different narrators (with the protagonist being a bit weaker than the rest). In truth, I dropped this book due to a very weak introduction. Years later, I decided to give it another go, a great decision it has proven to be.
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not) (Noli Me Tángere, #1)
  • El Filibusterismo (Noli Me Tangere, #2)
  • Soledad's Sister
  • Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang (Janus Sílang, #2)
  • Bakit Baliktad Magbasa Ng Libro Ang Mga Pilipino? (Mga Kwentong Barbero ni Bob Ong)
  • ABNKKBSNPLAKo?! (Mga Kwentong Chalk ni Bob Ong)
  • Si Janus Sílang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon (Janus Sílang, #1)
  • Alamat ng Gubat
  • Dekada '70 (Ang Orihinal at Kumpletong Edisyon)
  • The Lover's Dictionary
  • The Catastrophic History of You and Me
  • Stainless Longganisa
  • Pillow Talk
  • Real Live Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, Plural. If My Life Weren't Complicated, I Wouldn't Be Ruby Oliver (Ruby Oliver, #4)
  • 21 Proms
  • Shoe Addicts Anonymous (Shoe Addict, #1)
  • You Are My Once in a Lifetime: I Will Always Love You
  • Add Mo 'Ko As Friend: Your Link to Real Relationships
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

What will you do when it's your turn to pick your book club's next read? Well, this is what you won't do: panic. Why not? Because we've dug...
94 likes · 20 comments
“Love and passion are well and good while they last, but in the end what mattes is whether you like the person you are with. Friendship and companionship matter more. They are the things that last. And if in the end we learn to be friends, I will be content.” 22 likes
“Desperate people lose the thing that makes them human beings. They lose their heart. Anger and hate fill them so that they act like animals.” 9 likes
More quotes…