I finished Merlinda Bobis’s Banana Heart Summer, and am still thinking about the ending to such a neatly structured story. I think of this neatness in structure this way: sometimes form/formula is your friend, and sometimes it’s your crutch. If it’s the latter, then perhaps you’ve failed. In Bobis’s case, form/formula is her friend. I don’t know if this book was written as young adult literature; certainly the heroinne is a young adult, and the story is told in her voice. Something about this story, about this girl’s life has deeply affected me, and I am still trying to figure out what that is.
I think of these girls we see in the Philippines, so young, so poor, and so grown up but not grown up. We pass them in the streets all the time. We, in air conditioned Japanese cars with tinted windows. And then we try to forget about them, as real people with real lives. We know nothing of their lives, and any kind of attempt at abstraction, even in well-meaning ways, I do not think could ever do justice to a life experience we do not understand. So I am stuck in this place, thinking about difference, about distance, about fate.
It’s hard not to feel and/or experience compassion for her, so unwanted by her mother, so blamed though she is blameless, and so well-meaning. And the thing about her story is that, with the hunger, it isn’t just that she wants to be loved. She wants to understand, and she wants to make things right. She still believes that things can be fixed, and it’s heartbreaking for me as a reader to know that isn’t the case, not everything can be fixed; i.e. some things are so broken and irreparable.
In terms of food themes and lushness of language and imagery; is this due to expatriate reminiscence, nostalgia. And is it Bobis’s own expatriate reminiscence and nostalgia, or the character’s (as we learn later that she goes on to be domestic help in Oregon, USA). Or really, is there no other way to write the Philippines, its humidity and flora, such that what vividness and fragrance produced in the literature is so meticulously wrought.
Or is it that as Filipinos writing in English (maybe compounded by being expatriates), this is our relationship to the language. And do we always find ourselves writing meticulously wrought text in that formal voice, what Oscar calls the non-casual “declamation voice,” (as he references my writing style on this here blog) in which what we write or speak must necessarily be well-crafted and profound, precisely because we are operating within the realm of literature/high culture.
God, does that even make sense what I just wrote here. Meticulously wrought English, literature as traditionally high culture or high art, self-consciousness as practitioners of this high art, self-consciousness in using English, where self-consciousness ≠ insecurity, and rather self-consciousness = heightened consciousness of the use of language in the high arts by practitioners who have attained a level of mastery.
And finally, let the above ≠ colonized art, colonial thinking, or even elitism. It just is what it is, a particular place in which a particular set of writers write a particular set of concerns. I will leave it all at that. Declamation voice for declaimors, or orators. And orators as pratitioners of oral tradition. That mix of the two opposing worlds; Banana Heart Summer‘s neighborhood framed neatly between the Spanish Catholic church and the indigenous deity that is the volcano.