The Lost Language

Back in December, the Filipino book bloggers met up with Marianne Villanueva, who is one of the most delightful authors I’ve ever had the chance to meet.

I got a signed copy of her book,  The Lost Language: Stories (and in nice paper, too!) and I finally got to read it earlier this year.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll probably notice I am not much of a short story reader; I think I can count in one hand the number of anthologies I read every year. Lately, though, I’ve been drawn to shorter works, as I rarely have more than a few minutes of reading time, and nothing frustrates me more than an unfinished book.

So The Lost Language is a collection of stories, and I’m not sure how to collectively describe them, so here’s a rundown of some of the stories.

“Dumpster” is about two kids who feed the neighbor’s dog with a severed hand found in the dumpster; “The Unruly Heart” is about a mother who seeks out the bank teller responsible for her son’s death; “The Hand” is about a woman who is disturbed by a vision of a disembodied hand on her husband’s shoulder; “Restraining Order” finds a woman obsessed over her husband’s affair with a once-trusted friend. “Tagaytay” tells of a college sophomore having an affair with her history teacher, “Don Alfredo and Jose Rizal” shows cousins exploring their family history and supposed connection with the national hero;”Alex” is a story about a co-worker who is the constant subject of the office grapevine; “The Lost Language” offers a retrospection on history, both personal and national; and “Ghosts” is a dream of the dead.

Reading this book was more challenging than I thought it would be — I did not expect the experience to be so unsettling. The stories are told in first person, and while a lot of the characters appear calm and collected (the calm before the storm?) their introspection reveals a maelstrom of emotions:  sorrow, hurt, anger, disappointment, longing, fear, malice — there’s a lot to absorb in between the lines. It’s mostly dire straits for the characters, and I felt distraught and wrung out after reading the stories one after the other, as if I had been part of their struggles. I had to raid the fridge for my cheer-me-up chocolate stash after reading this book, but I think that’s where this collection succeeds — in telegraphing those emotions from the page into the reader’s consciousness.

It’s highly interesting, how the overall feel of the book stands in stark contrast to my experience of its author’s real-life effervescence.


The Lost Language, trade paperback, 3.5/5 stars

Book #18 for 2011

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