In the country Stories

Mia Alvar, 1978-

Book - 2015

"A powerful, globe-trotting debut short-story collection from an exciting new writer--vivid, character-driven stories about Filipinos from every walk of life. Mia Alvar's stunning debut gives us a vivid, insightful picture of the Filipino diaspora: exiles and emigrants and wanderers uprooting their families to begin new lives in the Middle East and America--and, sometimes, turning back. One man smuggles drugs from his pharmacy in New York to Manila for his ailing father, only to disco...ver an alarming truth about his mother. A woman living in Bahrain faces a challenge that compels her to question her marriage. A college student in Manila struggling to write fiction knows that her brother, who has gone abroad to make money, is the one living a life that stories are made of. The novella-length title story follows the unexpected fates of a journalist and a nurse during the 1970s labor strikes in Manila. Exploring the universal experience of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined, In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home"--

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New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2015.
First edition
Physical Description
347 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Mia Alvar, 1978- (-)
  • The kontrabida
  • The miracle worker
  • Legends of the white lady
  • Shadow families
  • The Virgin of Monte Ramon
  • Esmeralda
  • Old girl
  • A contract overseas
  • In the country.
Review by New York Times Review

BELIEVER: My Forty Years in Politics, by David Axelrod. (Penguin, $18.) Axelrod, apolitical strategist and longtime senior adviser to President Obama (he proposed the "Yes We Can" motto that rallied scores of supporters), recounts in this memoir his lifelong enthusiasm for politics and appreciation for "the combat, camaraderie and satisfaction of . . . spending myself in a worthy cause." THE WHITES, by Richard Price. (Picador/Holt, $16.) Sgt. Billy Graves is the head of the Night Watch team in Manhattan when a crime in Penn Station is linked to the case that nearly ruined his career years earlier. Price, a master of the crime genre, has written "a work of reportage as much as . . . a work of fiction," Michael Connelly said here, that "provides insight and knowledge, both rare qualities in the killing fields of the crime novel." OVERBOOKED: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, by Elizabeth Becker. (Simon & Schuster, $17.) From the 1950s onward, political détente and the decreasing cost of overseas travel have made far-flung destinations accessible for growing numbers of people. Becker delves into how this multibillion-dollar industry has transformed global economies and landscapes alike. THE UNFORTUNATE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTY, by Amanda Filipacchi. (Norton, $15.95.) Two women at the heart of Filipacchi's novel refashion themselves to overcome romantic handicaps caused by appearance. Barb, whose gorgeousness may have driven one of her friends to commit suicide, wears a homemade fat suit to ward off superficial admirers focused on her looks. Lily, devastatingly plain, fears she will be overlooked by men and composes a song that makes her irresistible to all who hear it. WATER TO THE ANGELS: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles, by Les Standiford. (Ecco/Harper-Collins, $16.99.) Sensing the profound risk of a water shortage in the region, Mulholland set out in 1907 to bring water from the Sierra Nevada to Los Angeles, a civil engineering project that allowed the city to grow into a sprawling metropolis. (When Mulholland arrived there in the 1870s, Los Angeles was a small town of roughly 9,000 people.) IN THE COUNTRY: Stories, by Mia Alvar. (Vintage, $16.95.) Alvar's debut collection ranges across the Filipino diaspora, with stops in the Persian Gulf and "Manilachusetts" in the United States. The title story, a tragic novella-length narrative, unfolds amid the political turmoil of 1970s Manila, when Milagros, a Filipino nurse, organizes a workers' strike to protest unfair pay. THE OPPOSITE OF SPOILED: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, by Ron Lieber. (Harper, $15.99.) The "Your Money" columnist for the Business Day section of The Times offers pragmatic advice for including children in household discussions about money, budgets and privilege. Frank conversations about finances don't have to be thorny.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [February 28, 2016] Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In these rich, layered short stories, Alvar gives voice to the immigrant experience of Filipinos. Living in Boston or New York City, the emigrants are still deeply tied to their native country, religiously sending back money and, in some cases, supporting whole villages as they toil in low-wage jobs and long for home. Hoping to ease his mother's burden, a man smuggles pain-killing drugs from his pharmacy in New York and brings them to Manila for his dying, abusive father, but what he learns about his mother's devotion upends his world. A special-education teacher living in Bahrain is paid handsomely to tutor a severely disabled young girl but soon realizes that her true mission is to deceive the student's mother about her child's bright future. In the title novella, a journalist and a nurse meet during a labor strike in Manila and marry, committing themselves to a life of activism only to discover that the country they've dedicated themselves to gave them everything and then took it away. These stories are stunning in their insight, compelling for their precise and nuanced detail, and provocative for the way they blur class lines.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this stunning debut collection, the yearnings of the characters resonate well beyond the page, and each story feels as rich, as deep, and as crafted as a novel. Equally impressive is the confident fluidity with which Alvar moves from Manila to Bahrain to Tokyo, from 1971 to 1986 to the 21st century. In "The Kontrabida," Steve, a pharmacist in New York, returns home to the Philippines to visit his dying father with a highly regulated sedative to ease his father's pain and, more so, his mother's. Although his risky action creates tension, a deeper strain arises when he attempts to help out in his mother's store and realizes he can't follow even the simplest requests: "It was a way of shopping I had completely forgotten: egg by egg, cigarette by cigarette, people spending what they earned in a day to buy what they would use in the next." In "The Miracle Worker," Sally is a Filipina who's accompanied her engineer husband to Bahrain and, making use of her skills as a special-education teacher, takes on a single student, a disabled girl from a very wealthy family, whose mother is rich enough to think she can "buy reality." Throughout Alvar's stories, the language is as elegant as it is durable, while the lines of class, race, gender, and history are both blurred and crystallized. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Few writers, even the most seasoned, can produce collections of evenly superb stories. Alvar triumphs on her first try. Her nine stories reflect her own peripatetic background (Manila born, Bahrain/New York raised, Harvard/Columbia educated), featuring a cast of immigrants, expats, travelers, runaways, and returnees caught in constant motion-geographically, socioeconomically, politically, emotionally-as they search for respite and long for an elusive "home." A pharmacist returns to Manila with pain-relieving drugs for his once abusive, now-dying father and watches his mother continue to serve his every need. The appearance-and disappearance-of a glamorous young maid causes resonating distrust among Bahrain's Filipino expat community. An office cleaner rushes to the World Trade Center on 9/11, seeking her lover. A young writer is born, if only to keep her overseas brother alive forever. A middle-aged politician exiled to -"Manilachusetts" trains for the Boston marathon. The titular final piece imbues the phrase "in the country" with tragic meaning as a nurse and a journalist struggle to survive the violent tumult of 1970s Philippines. VERDICT Both intrepid readers and armchair tourists eager to explore debut narratives that straddle multiple countries and cultures-à la Violet Kupersmith's The Frangipani Hotel or Rajesh Parameswaran's I Am an Executioner-will be opulently rewarded here.-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

In this debut collection, Filipino students, teachers, activists, maids, and chauffeurs negotiate their lives under martial law at home and seek fortune abroad in the Middle East and New York. Each of these nine revelatory stories delivers characters who are equal parts endearing and disturbing. In the stunning "Esmeralda," a cleaning woman ponders her station in life as she dusts offices in the twin towers in the months preceding 9/11. "You lay thereEsmeralda, daughter of the dirt, born to toil in God's name till your hands or heart gave outreclining like an infant or a queen, a hundred levels aboveground." In "A Contract Overseas," a budding fiction writer in the Philippines reveres her older brother despite his immoral, often dangerous behavior in Saudi Arabia. "I could picture him, reading my words somewhere, chuckling at my attempts to save some version of his life. Who could say, then, that I had an altogether lousy or inadequate imagination?" In the chilling "The Miracle Worker," a special education teacher befriends her student's family's maidwho, it turns out, has a dark side. "I had underestimated her: what looked like a lifetime of toil and taking orders had contained subversions that no one, until now, had seen." Alvar deftly flips the master-servant dynamic on its head. Her electric prose probes the tension between social classes, particularly in "Shadow Families," in which wealthy Filipina housewives in Bahrain throw parties for working-class Filipinos. "These katulonghelpers,' as we called themwere often younger but always aging faster than we were, over brooms and basins, their lungs fried with bleach and petroleum vapors.Helping these helpers, who'd traveled even farther, felt like home." A triumphant, singular collection deserving of every accolade it will likely receive. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.