cover image The Betrayed

The Betrayed

Reine Arcache Melvin. Europa, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-60945-773-0

Filipina American writer Melvin’s dense debut novel (after the collection A Normal Life and Other Stories) explores the complex relationship between two sisters and the Philippines’ turbulent history. After Pilar and Lali’s dissident father is murdered, they deal with their grief in different ways. Pilar wants to continue fighting the regime as their father had, while Lali marries Arturo, godson of the general who had a hand in their father’s death. Fear is ever-present—“There was only this: the sense of a tiny crack inside her, where she was always afraid,” Melvin writes of Pilar. When Arturo learns Lali may have married him out of convenience, he turns to Pilar for comfort, and, with Lali’s blessing, they have an affair. But after Pilar has Arturo’s baby, Lali tries to get him back. To stop obsessing over Arturo’s lack of interest, Lali goes to a local shopping mall to scout out eligible men and meets Peter, a white journalist who asks her to travel with him to the South, which she believes may be the only way to win her husband’s desire again. Though the plot tends to meander and stall, Melvin offers a convincing perspective on political turmoil and the ways it impacts her characters’ lives. Other novels have done a better job with similar material, but this has its moments. (Sept.)