Merlinda Carullo Bobis (born 1959) is a Filipino-Australian poet and novelist. However, the story is supposed to be narrated by a twelve-year old girl, Nenita. I am younger by 5 years than her and was also born here in Manila. Bobis might have just assumed that the growing up years she had in Legaspi would have been the same as if she was raised in that area along Remedios Circle in Manila. However, having some semblance to the true milieu is of course not really too much to ask for especially if you want to imagine how some places looked like many years ago.
She always talks about her siblings and the days that they enjoyed in there small kitchen cooking, chatting and revealing secrets like the old tale of The Red Tent. After reading this book, I must be dreaming eating Atchara, a Philippines condiment cooked from pickled papaya and usually served as a side dish. The smell of the boiling solution of salt, vinegar and ginger sap makes you dizzy and fall from every trap that appears at your side and lastly, the mixing of fresh ingredients like fresh memories and the sourness of the vinegar solution creating a balance taste of a perfect side dish, atchara. Mentioning hundreds of local delicacies makes my tongue jump and lick every pages of the book, I may be crying remembering my mother, how sweet and bitter a life can be. Before you start reading her novel I must invite you guys to enter her Fruit Stall, a short story she wrote for Filipino especially the beautiful body of the papayas, who work abroad and lost counts of there dignity and wishing a better future.
Now, for me, the difference between these two books was the writing. Cisnero's writing in Mango Street remained poetic yet very straight forward, but lacked somewhat in plot as it was written in vignettes and not as a whole.
The book uses food as an introduction to each chapter, along with mouthwatering descriptions of the dishes. Nana Dora, the local cook, who teaches Nenita how to cook also tells her the legend of the Banana Heart, where if someone eats it, they will never be hungry.
I really grew to like the characters, especially Manolito Ching and Miss VV, in contrast to the main character.
I felt pity for her for the hurt and pain she had, physically or emotionally, at the same time, I'm proud because she has that good trait that a girl/sister/daughter like her should possess. Being patient, hard-working, loving and caring.
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. 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. There is the physical hunger as she is the eldest daughter of a very, very poor and large family.
I didn't care for the story itself. If I wanted to read a novel about food, I would pick this one up, otherwise no.
Born in Legaspi City, in the Philippines province of Albay, Merlinda Bobis attended Bicol University High School then completed her B.A. at Aquinas University in Legaspi City.