In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar [in Library Journal]
Few writers, even the most seasoned, can produce collections of evenly superb stories. Mia 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.
Review: “Short Stories,” Library Journal, April 15, 2015