A village holding back the rising of the moon. A White turtle ferrying dreams of the dead. A queue of longings in Sydney. A river sweet with lemon grass. A working siesta in a five-star hotel. An anomalous kiss in Iraya. Or the secret of the tightening shoes. These are among the twenty-three dream stories that Merlinda Bobis conjures between the Philippines and Australia. The mythic weave with the wistful, the quirky with the visionary, and always in a storytelling that sings.
Confusingly this book has already been published in Australia as White Turtle, and in the U.S. as The Kissing, why it needs a different name in every country its published in is beyond me. Looking at this in the local bookshop, it seemed like a very enticing read but thanks to the habit the shop has of wrapping them all in clear plastic I was unable to read any of the contents.
It is hard to write about short stories without big spoilers but I shall endeavour to give you a flavour of the work whilst avoiding any key points. I may as well start with a note about two stories mentioned above as I have to begin somewhere.
White Turtle is a story about cultures, the meeting of old ways, of old story telling and modern, and how they can be understood in different more flexible ways. The Kissing, tells of a stolen kiss and the consequences it brings upon the lives of a house. Both of these stories were the major highlights along with The Sadness Collector which talks about family bonds and the struggle of a long distance relationship, one involving a child.
Bobis is a strong writer and her feminist views are shown in full force. Her anger at the stereotypes about Asian women are particularly vivid as are her portrayals of horrible foreign men, especially Australians. Getting past all the vitriol, there are some interesting stories but I think less is more when it comes to making an impact when about such experiences.
As you would expect there is a fusion of cultures here, and in places it feels uniquely Filipino. Many are set or have references to a town at the foot of Mount Iraya, which is on the beautiful island of Batanes (of which I still need to post of my travels last year). I really enjoyed those parts as it brings the feeling of being in The Philippines to the fore. The stories are deeply rooted in local folklore making all else foreign and something apart from the culture, which is nonetheless unavoidably malleable with time.
What I was hoping for was a surreal, magically realistic collection of stories to accompany me to bed but which turned out to be something totally different, more akin to an exploration of old and new, of money and different types of power. As much as I like to throw myself in Filipino literature, I didn’t find this one was a highlight. It had good points but I just couldn’t get past the blurb which hinted at magical stories, and whilst there was some of that, there was too much of the other. Whilst that may be my fault, I did attempt to rally but not enough of the stories were engaging enough.