Dream Stories – Merlinda Bobis

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.

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21 Replies to “Dream Stories – Merlinda Bobis”

  1. What a shame! I thought you were going to end with a ‘must read this amazing book’ paragraph because, like you, I think the blurb definitely suggests something wonderful and other wordly. Perhaps we and our fellow bloggers should put together our own collection, based on the ‘write what you want to read’ principle haha!

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    1. I’m glad it wasn’t just me that read the blurb like that. I saved this book for a while because I wanted to be in the mood for it, it makes me wary of all books wrapped in plastic now, unless I am already familiar with the author. I like you idea, the money would come in handy!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The impact of one powerful story is much better than repeating the same theme until the reader’s eyes glaze over. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm to read more Filipino authors, I still have a decent amount to hand and my eyes are on another book in the local bookshop, although now I am slightly more wary, especially as they are all wrapped up. I remain hopeful though!

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    1. I’m glad it’s not just me with that impression. I don’t mind a few stories in the vein if what I got but I craved some good magical realism at the time.

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  2. What a shame! I’m a feminist but there’s such a thing as subtlety and not overplaying things. Shrink wrapped books where you can’t see the contents? Maybe not such a good idea!

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    1. It was a bitll much when yet another bad man was introduced. They seemed to.be in the same themes as well. Vary it up a bit and be subtle and I would have appreciated the text a lot more. TheI talking point could have been the problem she portrays then and not the way this reader was put off.

      I think there us a problem with people just going in to read the books. A sample photocopy of text would godown well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I can see shrink-wrapping the books if people just stand and read and don’t buy, because smaller bookshops can’t always afford to be as indifferent to this as Barnes and Noble can, or other large booksellers. But maybe a sample photocopy of a page of text pinned up to a wall above the stack of books they hope to sell would be nice, you’re right.

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    1. The second hand bookshops I’ve been to don’t have the wrapping, just the big book chains. For the big name international authors it isn’t a problem for me, but the national authors, the ones who need to be supported more really should be made more of. Still my quest for good books continues and I have a few more to write about in the upcoming months, as I bide my time to secure more local titles.

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  4. I have read Filipino literature before, hopefully I’lls start with this one. Great review as usual. We’re melting in London, the heat is akin to hell!!!

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      1. Wished I could trade places. I’m petrified of cold weather now, it affects my right knee. Might move to a temperate region if I have the means. I’ll read Jose Nizal’s Noli soon.

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        1. Well The Philippines is a lovely place which I can recommend, it rarely drops below 25, on a really cold day, unless you are up a mountain. So far the process of moving has been relatively straightforward.

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    1. That’s what grabbed me, I love the fusing of worlds and there were some good parts to the book but overall it didn’t satisfy in that department half as much as I hoped.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh dear, it sounds rather like the marketing department and the author were at cross-purposes. Your criticism of heavy-handedness is always useful to keep in mind when plotting stories.

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    1. I prefer a bit of subtlety. Treat your audience how you wish to be treated, if you think they won’t get, then the author is either underestimating his/her audience or isn’t writing well enough.

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