Friday, December 3, 2010

Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai

(Photo taken from Goodreads)

Title: Eating Fire and Drinking Water
Author: Arlene J. Chai
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Language: English
ISBN - 10: 0449911438
ISBN - 13: 978-0449911433

Set against the backdrop of an emerging rebellion, a struggling young reporter rushes to a fire in a small street in the city to write about what happened. Little did she know that the circumstances of her birth are intertwined with the story she would be writing.

So goes the story of Clara Perez. Written in the first person, this book tells stories within a story. I would like to remark again on the author's brilliant recollection of historical events that was the background of this novel, and should I say, Arlene J. Chai definitely knows her strongest suit: historical backgrounds. However, unlike The Last Time I Saw Mother, this story is not hesitant, uncertain, or digressing. Maybe that's because there is only one storyteller here, and so the reader is not bombarded with several voices speaking about different things, yet all very identical. This book's tone is at once haunting and fascinating, logical and imaginative. This may be the author's best book yet.

The characters assert their own unique qualities which make for interesting reading. It was like reading about your favorite celebrities in the gossip column: you could not, for the life of you, ignore what you are reading, nor unbelieve what you just learned. Only this time, the gossip column is a work of fiction, but feels almost real. Because it occurred in the time of what may be the Philippine People Power Revolution (the author did not specify which country this occurred, but every detail definitely points to the Philippines), I could not help but reconcile the stories within this book to those I learned about in history class, and with conversations with the people who lived through Martial Law and witnessed the revolution. Was there really a stone? Did a church actually disappear? Was there really an attempt on a general's life? You can't help but unearth the story surrounding these events again. I think that is what I love about this author's works: she talks so well about history you want to open the books again and read it to confirm or refute whatever she said. It seems like the author is challenging you on what you know about history.

However, there is one part that I did not like: the stigmata. I know that this was symbolic of that character's life, but it just seemed too much drama already, and this book is already full of it. It's full to the brim you feel like you are watching a movie: you huddle in your seat when a gruesome murder occurs, you snort through the mushy love lines but feel touched in spite of yourself, and you feel roaring angry at the cold, calculating, haughty mother. This book, with its several stories, have all that and more.

In summary, I think the author has evaluated her writing and improved on her storytelling. Gone is the digression and uncertainty, and in its place, something thrilling and just a touch dramatic. She has become one of my favorite authors because of this book, and I can't wait to see what she writes about next.

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