Pinoys, start waxing poetic {Mariposa Gang and Other Stories by Catherine Torres}

Vignettes of alienation. Vignettes of Philippine life.

Synopsis of Mariposa Gang and Other Stories by Catherine Torres: A maid packs her bags after learning that her employer values her less than a murano vase. A young man enters the priesthood when he is spurned by the woman he loves and is sent on a mission to the backwaters of West Bengal. A pampered heiress goes on exchange study in Tokyo to prove her independence and finds herself stuck without heating in the middle of winter. A seaman avenges his daughter and is banished to a penal farm, where he spends his days catching rare butterflies. These ten stories by Catherine Torres are about women and men navigating various forms of exile, and recovering, or discovering, ‘home’ in surprising, often startling, ways.

My two cents

When I was contacted by an author -- who also happens to be Filipino like me -- I couldn't resist. She sent me two of her books for review consideration. This is one of them.

This is a book that made me immensely sad. As an immigrant, my heart goes out to the many men and women who leave their homeland in search of a better life on foreign shores. But this collection takes it one step further because it is not just about being transplanted in a foreign land, but a foreign environment in general. Torres's short stories capture the feelings of alienation, of loneliness ... but of an even stronger longing for a better life. I often wonder about the paradox of economic success and stability at the expense of the deterioration of social values and structures. It is a reality many face daily.

These are vignettes of life, of the sad reality that "home" is not always where we want it to be. A tough "can do" attitude can get one very far indeed. But deep inside remains that need for connection, of familiarity to one's surroundings.

One big thing about these stories is the nostalgic sense of place that Torres is able to infuse, in her easy mentioning of places or situations or memories or sights and sounds of the Philippines. It's enough for any immigrant Filipino to start waxing poetic.


Quick thoughts about each story:

Mariposa Gang metaphorically captures the fleeting nature of life. A prisoner, in jail for stabbing his daughter's lover, joins a team that catches rare butterflies to be sold for the highest price. The butterflies are as elusive as the happiness he so desires.

The Sema highlights the deterioration of a marriage in a honeymoon to Turkey, surprisingly, with the beginning of a new friendship.

Mannequins depicts two young women, roommates and polar opposites, both escaping poverty and a lack of prospects and now struggling to make money in various odd jobs in Singapore.

Gilt-Edged Shadows hones in on the immense beauty that is possible only when breaking the rules. A paradoxical tale of how not giving into the new trends produces results one can be truly proud of.

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The Haenyeo of Korea (photo from here)
Hibernation takes place in the dead of winter in Japan with a female student coming for the free food at a student gathering. The event reveals a departure of a professor and a realization of the departure from her own ideals.

Blown Glass shows the heartbreaking paradox that in the subjectivity of the meaning of value in two very different cultures, things often hold more value than life.

Man of the Cloth is the quest of a young and idealistic Filipino priest for true meaning in his life, from the revolutionary to the altruistic to the settling into his calling.

Plunge is how a young Filipino husband immerses himself in the family, the culture and the life with his Korean wife, with a fascinating interplay with a backstory of traditional female divers of Korea (or Haenyeo).

The Bag Lady is a tale of the unlikely transformation of Filipino beauty queen and into a maid and bag lady in Singapore, and of a relatively content woman into one full of regret.

Cafe Masala is a Filipina's new business as she returns to her homeland from India.


Succinct, emotional tales of immigrant hearts. Truthful, real, and meaningful. Read it!

Which of these short stories interest you?

A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for honest review consideration. All opinions are mine.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall