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REVIEW: Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene Chai

Arlene Chai, a well-known Australian-based writer of Filipino descent, came out with her second novel, Eating Fire and Drinking Water in the late 1990s.


Having read her other work, The Last Time I Saw Mother, which I so genuinely enjoyed, I eagerly picked this one up and set about savoring my new found find.

Set in the Philippines, during the 16th year of El Presidente (who, not surprisingly, is loosely based on the former president Marcos), the book details the various events and lives of a group of people who lived (some opposed to the regime, some passive spectators) during the years-old dynasty of the Philippine President. 

It, however, centers around the main character, a journalist by the name of Clara Perez, who slowly figures out her personal history (having been brought up by nuns in a convent), and whose life is changed by the people she meets along her journey (full book summary can be read here.)

This book is actually loosely based on the Martial Law era, at the time when Marcos was slowly loosing control of the government and student activists were quite rampant.  The book, at times, can be a little dragging with the author providing a lot of POVs of different characters, some of which I believe are so minor that they should not have been given narrative space.

The narrator, Clara herself, tells the story in a way as if she is detailing the past, so there are a lot of conflicts of which the readers are already given an inkling that all is not as it seems -- i.e. that Clara would be meeting up with this character in the future, that she will find out that she is related to this person, etc.  This eliminated the surprise revelations since at the back of your mind, you already know something will show up.

Dragging parts and the messy POVs aside, it is, however, a good read and gives the reader an idea of life during the Marcos regime.  An interesting find for those who never really experienced the Martial Law era firsthand or were too young to remember this tumultuous period in Philippine history.

RATE: 3 stars out of 5

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