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Banana Heart Summer, by Merlinda Bobis.

August 3, 2014

Banana Heart Summer, by Merlinda Bobis. Delta (2008), Paperback, 257 pages.

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS

A lyrical narrative of a girl growing up in the Philippines during an eventful summer for her and the people living on her street.

Merlinda Bobis now lives and writes in Australia, but she grew up in the Philippines and places much of her writing there. She is a poet and a novelist, probably best known for her impressive, multi-layered Fish-Hair Woman. This book, like her Solemn Lantern-Maker, (see my reviews) is a simpler story with much of the same fine writing.

Nenita, the narrator of Banana Heart Summer, is the oldest of six children of a family mired down in poverty. Her mother had left a well-to-do family when she fell in love with a stone mason. The summer that Nenita was twelve, her father was out of work and her mother pregnant again. Beaten by her angry mother, Nenita set out to earn money to feed her family, and to “please or appease” her mother. That summer all the people along her street are drawn in to life-changing events ranging from acts of love and despair to the eruption of the nearby the volcano.

As in her other books, Bobis blends the imaginary and symbolic with concrete bits of reality. Perpetually hungry, Nenita fills her story with recipes and descriptions of food. She gives us detailed accounts of various local dishes that she and others prepare. Her recipes are layered with comments about the impact different foods have on people and the need to balance love and anger, the heart and the spleen. Underneath the banana hearts and coconut milk, we see her own need not just for food, but for love.

I recommend this book enthusiastically to those who enjoy books of depth and whimsy.

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