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San Francisco, CA, 94131-0928

A space to encourage writing of Filipino American literature and the arts




Philippine American Writers and Artists blog for lit/arts events, reviews, news, and opportunities.

Filtering by Category: Reviews

Review: How Someone Else’s Poems Can Feel Like Your Own (On Patrick Rosal's Boneshepherds)


Via the Urchin Movement: An excerpt of the review by Geo Ong: "Many of the poems in Boneshepherds made me believe that I can write poetry. They give me hope, like I could’ve written these very poems, or that I could write stories just like these ones, because what they’ve told me, I somehow already knew. Rosal wrote from his place on the cusp of understanding, and this time it is he who is inviting me inside, because even though I seem to have lived there for quite some time, it now feels like home for the very first time. Boneshepherds urged me to look at myself honestly and to write honestly."

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Review: Gun Dealers' Daughter by Gina Apostol


Via Pop Matters: Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter is very much a mosaic. It’s a hazy fever-dream of a novel, a story in which the confusion of the narrator spills into the storyline itself, leaving the reader as disoriented as the protagonist. Given the serious thematic issues here, both political and personal, this confusion might be expected to result in a reading experience that’s more frustrating than satisfying. Happily, though, Apostol manages to keep her readers engaged, for the most part, by imbuing her story with significant event, as well as sentence-level interest.

As with many mosaic novels, a simple reiteration of the plot reduces the story to something unappealingly simplistic. A Filipina college student, a daughter of privilege, becomes involved with a group of would-be revolutionaries under the Marcos regime. They commit petty acts of rebellion before working their way toward a much larger, more significant event. Consequences from this range from the obvious to the unexpected.

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And come see Gina read from Gun Dealers' Daughter in San Francisco in October.

Review: Boneshepherds by Patrick Rosal


Via Muzzle Magazine: Boneshepherds by Patrick Rosal A Review by Jacob Victorine, Book Reviewer

I’ve rarely come to a collection of poetry with more expectations than in the case of Patrick Rosal’s Boneshepherds. I had read his two previous collections, My American Kundiman (2006) and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (2003), and felt akin to this writer who so gracefully straddles the narrative and the lyrical, the inexplicable and the performative. Rosal is one of the few poets I know of who can address the reader directly (as he does in “Pride Fight”) without drawing him out of the poem. Rosal’s poems ask to be lifted to the mouths of his readers, yet once visited on the page they reveal even greater intricacies. This oral quality does not only present itself in Rosal’s writing style, however, but also in his themes. For as long as I’ve been aware of his poetry, Rosal has been a poet who concerns himself with music and the body. Boneshepherds represents his most ambitious attempt at merging these two motifs.

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Review: “People Are Strange” by Eric Gamalinda


Via Neon Literary Magazine: An uncharitable reaction to the title of Eric Gamalinda’s collection of short stories would be a heavily rhetorical “are they?” As well as being the title to a song by The Doors, it’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation. It is, perhaps, a little unfair to judge a book by its title, but it’s an integral part of the book, and the first or second thing any reader is going to notice: this one does the collection no favours.

The strongest story in the collection “Famous Literary Frauds” retells the Cyrano de Bergerac story for the Oprah Winfrey age. The ugly, but eloquent wordsmith is a creative writing professor who believes he can’t get published because of his age and appearance; his mouthpiece is a talentless, but beautiful student: “beautiful people cannot write good poetry” the professor tells us. Bryan, his student, says he wants “to be as technically agile as Cyrano de Bergerac,” a knowing nod, in case we think that this is just an unoriginal plot. Writing about writers can be a dangerous indulgence; and writing about writing teachers even more so; knowing references to the origins of a story are more dangerous still. “Famous Literary Frauds” adopts a high-risk strategy that pays off. The characters are engaging, the plot features enough twists on the original to keep the reader interested, and the broader theme–literary originality and our cultural obsession with youth–while not especially new, is still a fruitful area.

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Review: Lysley Tenorio's Monstress


Via the Rumpus: Lysley Tenorio’s linked short story collection, Monstress, organically ties together stories of the misfits and outcasts of both the Philippines and Southern California.

The eight stories that comprise Monstress, the very-good-verging-on-excellent debut collection from San Francisco’s Lysley Tenorio, aren’t connected in the usual ways readers have been trained to expect. There are no recurring characters. It doesn’t all take place in one neighborhood, or on the same day. And there aren’t any of those knowingly offhand references in one story to some crucial item or moment from an earlier one, which tend to be about as subtle as a brick.

Come to think of it, when I say the usual ways, what I mean is the usual annoying ways. Rare is the story collection that comes by its interconnectedness in an organic way. Monstress clears this not-insignificant hurdle with ease. Tenorio’s stories, which were previously published in the usual murderer’s row of literary journals and magazines (your Atlantics, your Ploughshareses), are unmistakably of a piece with one another, and their common denominator is at once more obvious and more subtle. Namely, they all loosely orbit the same two places: the Philippines and Southern California. Residents of the former dream of the latter. And those that have escaped with both money and gumption (the lucky ones) spend the rest of their lives wondering if the journey was worth the price of admission.

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Review: Bindlestiff Studio and PMSTA’s “Death of a Player”


Bindlestiff Studio and PMSTA’s “Death of a Player,” reviewed by Bruce Reyes-Chow: The main reason that I took my daughter to see the show was not only because it was a production by PMSTA, but because I want to support the work and mission of The Bindlestiff Studio especially upon their return to operation.

From the Bindlestiff Website:

Originally opened in 1989, Bindlestiff Studio became the only permanent, community-based performing arts venue in the nation dedicated to showcasing emerging Filipino American and Pilipino artists.

Bindlestiff Studio provides the often under-served Filipino American community access to diverse offerings in theatrical productions, music and film festivals, workshops in directing, production, acting, stand-up comedy, and writing, as well as a children and youth theater program.

Bindlestiff Studio cultivates artists, who reflect and celebrate the diverse values, traditions, and histories of Pilipino and Filipino American cultures, through bold artistic expression and community engagement.

It is so important for small, focused venues like this to exist in order to provide exposure and opportunity: exposure to a larger audience of a community’s complex history, struggles and accomplishments and an opportunity for those from that community to have a venue to express those stories in creative and unique ways.  I am glad to see that Bindlestiff Studio is back in business and ready to lift up and share the voices and expressions of the Filipino American experience.


overall this was a wonderful production for its context, passion and moments of solid acting.  Knowing that any “review” is a matter of perspective and opinion, I am not going to call anyone out in particular, but rather I want to lift up the performances that really touched me.

In no particular order, my three favorite performances were:

Pretty Little Girls – This was by far the most fun of the plays . . . if you like guns, zombies and blood that is. Great timing and acting by all three performers. The plot moved quickly and the dialogue was easy to track as the three characters transformed numerous times. The most physical and campy of the plays, they did a great job selling the physical movement and the ending was awesome. The final play, it closed out the entire night on a high note.

Word of Oprah – Aureen Amario delivered one of the best performances of the night as a cheated-on women who does stuff – you’ll have to see it to find out what – to her significant other and lands in prison.  Her dead on impersonation of the man in her life combined with her ability to move back and forth between “normal” and “crazy” was more than a little disconcerting . . . in a good way.

Circadian Suites - There were many strong performances throughout the production, but the one that stood out for me was Tonilyn Sideco as Ophelia. Overall this was one of the strongest acted plays by all of the actors, but Tonilyn really brought it. Her ability to express genuine longing for and struggle about the love of her life was profound. Dotted with some great prop gag timing as well as deep emotional despair there was an intimacy that was truly moving.

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For more info:

  • Bindlestiff Studio: Website | Twitter | Facebook
  • PMSTA:  Website | Facebook
  • Remaining Showtimes: October 27 and 28 at 8:00pm and October 29, 2:00 and 8:00pm.
  • Tickets: $20 and can be ordered through Brown Paper Tickets. $25 at the door.
  • Location: Bindlestiff Studio 165 6th Street, btw Howard and Mission

Review: Barbara Jane Reyes, DIWATA


From Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century: Barbara Jane Reyes is busy (re-)creating a culture. In Diwata, she dreamweaves what is and isn’t remembered through prose and line broken poems. Her third collection explores metamorphosis amid two cultures and tongues.


Reyes is a storyteller. Her motifs are intricately woven and the arc is unmistakable. Half of me wants a loose end to grapple with; the other half is in awe of Reyes’ ability to carry such a cohesive, full-length collection.

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Review: R. Zamora Linmark's LECHE


From the Neworld Review:

Leche is a book about contradiction:  the title, the country it takes place in, and the quest Vince finds himself on without even realizing it. The word leche in Spanish means “milk,” while in the Philippines, it is a curse word, “shit”. Leche both provides nourishment and is filth. Throughout the book, Linmark strategically places lists of tourist tips. They are humorous and interesting, and when the story didn’t quite peak my interest, I would look ahead to see how much further until I reached another set of tourist tips. Having said that, the last two of the book read:

  • Keep tourist tips where they belong: at the International Date Line.
  • Remember: in Manila, contradictions are always welcome, including—and especially—yours.

The culture is open and growing and continuing to change as the country and its people survive, and in this it breaks from the constraints of stereotypes. As for Vince, his journey through Manila and his memories grow more personal and deep through the novel. We finally see what Vince struggles with and hope that he has found his answer, as it wasn’t stated explicitly (for me) in the end. It wasn’t until I reread the introductory quotes that I found some form of understanding. “Resist – a plot is brought home – The tour,” is from Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. And “But to draw the lessons of the good that came my way, I will describe the other things I saw,” from Dante’s Inferno. Linmark chose these quotes to bring the reader’s attention to the theme that it is the lessons learned along the journey that show us home.

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Book Review: 'Moonface: A True Romance' by Angela Balcita


From Hyphen magazine: Abigal Licad reviews Moonface: A True Romance by Angela Balcita

I don’t usually read memoirs. For the most part, I distrust memoirs in the way that any person should distrust a half-baked pickup line delivered in some seedy dive. The handful that I've read have tended to (a) evince extreme narcissism by the author, or (b) have an offensively blatant self-promoting agenda. I muttered “amen” under my breath when New York Times books section columnist Neil Genzlinger bitched about how too many people who lead lives too insignificant manage to get books published.

So why did I pick up Moonface by Angela Balcita? Well, the back cover blurb says that the book is about the author’s experience with a kidney transplant, and it so happens that someone very close to me underwent one. That person, my best friend, was very mum about her whole experience. In fact, through her year-long ordeal of dialysis, searching for a donor, and surgery, we never talked much about her disease (which is more telling, I think, of the unspeakable difficulty of the experience rather than any lack of trust between us). So, wanting to know more of what my best friend went through, I started reading Balcita's book.

The thing, though, is that Balcita's book didn't really help me experience vicarious pain as I was expecting it to. This was no grab-your-tissues pity party. There were no long-drawn complaints about pain or fatigue, nor any extensive forays into the medical or physiological makings of kidney disease.


Instead of the depressing book I had anticipated, the book ended up being a fun and almost light-hearted read.

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Review: Donna Miscolta, When the De La Cruz Family Danced


Via PLOP! When the De La Cruz Family Danced

Author:  Donna Miscolta Review:  Josie E. Davis Publisher: Signal 8 Press, June, 2011 eISBN: 978-988-19895-2-9 Pages: 342 Price: $16.35

When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a breathtaking portrayal of acceptance, longing, and loss – as one family learns forgiveness with each other and with the past. In thoughtful prose, debut novelist Donna Miscolta interlocks the smallest and most delicate stories and phrases with the upmost affection; she is attentive to dialogue as if composing a waltz, “I came to take you dancing, Tessie.” A seductive sound pulling the reader onto every page.

Set within a Filipino suburb of the California-Mexico border, the book opens with a month long journey to the Philippines in which Johnny de la Cruz finds himself face to face with the grown-up beauty queen of Little Manila, Bunny Piña. Nearly twenty years later, we encounter Bunny’s only son, Winston, on the doorstep of the de la Cruz home.

“On Monday afternoon, Winston arrived at the de la Cruz residence exactly on time … Even through the screen door, he recognized Tessie. She was dressed in white slacks and an aqua short-sleeved blouse that, though becoming, made Winston think of the synthetic color of the Beachcomber pool.”

Miscolta is as skilled in her writing as she is full of surprises. From gambling to the box step and Filipino beauty queens, When the De La Cruz Family Danced makes me laugh and cry when I least expect it. By the end of the book I am as much a part of the De La Cruz family as Johnny de la Cruz himself. It takes incredible tact and skill to bring together such a diverse array of characters and Miscolta does this with impeccable flair.

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