Esperanza Street, by Niyati Keni.
Esperanza Street, by Niyati Keni. And Other Stories (2015), Paperback, 320 pages.
A coming of age novel about a boy in a seaside town in the Philippines threatened with new developments.
Esperanza Street is a street in a small town in the Philippines. It runs from the big houses on the hill down to the jetty where poor people live and work. The central character of the novel is Joseph, a teenager from a family near the jetty who becomes a houseboy for a widow who runs a boardinghouse up on the hill. She has two sons, one Joseph’s age and the other older, and Joseph gets involved in both their problems. At the same time, a distrusted land speculator is planning to build a massive new development of malls and other buildings that will require the destruction of the homes of many poor residents. For Joseph, as for his father before him, coming of age is less about love or adventure than about resignation and the acceptance of duty.
Niyati Keni was born in London, the child of parents who had migrated there from India. A physician as well as a writer, she has traveled widely in Asia, including in the Philippines. This is her first novel; a good book but not an excellent one. Keni is best at describing the people up and down Esperanza Street whom Joseph encounters. I had trouble relating to the characters, however, and sometimes found their choices implausible. The rhythm and the plot of the book seemed awkward with suspense building but not being resolved. I also found the book depressing. It lacked the lyrical beauty that balanced the pain in Claire of the Sea Light , a similar book by Ewidge Danticat about a town in Haiti.
Esperanza Street was published by And Other Stories, an innovative British publishing company that includes direct, advance subscriptions in its business model. Many of their publications are translations from a variety of languages. See their website for information about them.