The Umbrella Country

Bino A. Realuyo, Author
Bino A. Realuyo, Author Ballantine Books $19 (320p) ISBN 978-0-345-42888-2
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Open Ebook - 154 pages - 978-0-307-78157-4
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-04008-3
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Gringo, the protagonist of Realuyo's debut novel, is an 11-year-old Filipino boy growing up in a squalid Manila neighborhood amid brutal family circumstances. He absorbs frighteningly mixed messages about sexuality and manhood from the neighborhood beauty salon owner, Boy Manicure, who preys upon young boys and is preyed upon himself for his homosexuality. Gringo's brother Pipo dresses up in women's clothing for a make-believe pageant in which he is Miss Universe, and also engages in taboo activities past curfew. Gringo stands by helplessly as his father erupts in unpredictable violence against family members. Ninang Rola, Gringo's sympathetic godmother, knows the full story behind this tragic family but keeps insisting ""some things are better kept than said."" That may be a part of the problem. Poet Realuyo has assembled a powerful array of characters for this coming-of-age story, but he has left them strangely ill-defined and vague. The reader knows little of the inner workings of Pipo, a pivotal figure in Gringo's life, whose example he follows into homosexual entanglements. Other characters, like Boy Spit, a compassionate, endearing love interest for the young Gringo, are potentially interesting figures, but they too are underdeveloped. Gringo moves from one observed experience to the next without giving the reader many clues as to the effect they have on him. When the chance for a new life presents itself to the family, it involves a heartbreaking split that should deliver an emotional punch, but instead is squandered in Realuyo's distancing approach. (Mar.)
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