Reviews

Orth, who worked five years for a nonprofit organization in Manila, Philippines, captures both the beauty and cruelty she witnessed there in her stellar first novel, set in the early 1980s near the end of Ferdinand Marcos’s despotic reign. Doming Aquinaldo, a rebel whose father was murdered by Marcos’s henchman, is employed as a driver for a US diplomat, Trace Caldwell, who supports the regime’s oppressive policies. Doming eventually finds an ally (and lover) in Trace’s lonely wife, Rue, who comes around to Doming’s view after witnessing the everyday atrocities to which US officials turn a blind eye. Orth vividly evokes the Manila of that era, from the beggars to the superstitious prophecies that substitute for hope, with such sensory details as the sound of a ripe mango hitting the ground and the bitter tang of rice wine vinegar on a piece of tanguigi (e.g., a whitefish). A judicious peppering of Tagalog lends further authenticity.

Pubishers Weekly, *Starred* Review

 

This impressive first novel not only re-creates the sights, sounds, and smells of Manila during the late 1980s, it also captures the dignity of those who were long oppressed but never cowed.

Booklist, Joanne Wilkinson

 

Orth’s first novel excels in its depiction of the cruelty and oppression that defined the Marcos regime in the Philippines in the 1980s. But it also successfully captures the Southeast Asian country’s incredible diversity of people, language, food, and spiritual beliefs. . . . Orth engages readers with her vivid description of the lush tropical climate. Her writing also should propel them to anger and compassion with its difficult details about the corruption and violence meted out against Filipino society, especially those who dared to stand up to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Highly recommended.

—Faye A. Chadwell, Oregon State Univ. Lib., Corvallis, from Library Journal, 11/1/2008

 

About two-thirds of the way through Lucia Orth’s Baby Jesus Pawnshop, protagonist Rue Caldwell experiences an epiphany. As Ferdinand Marcos is being inaugurated to the office of President of the Philippines, Rue realizes that her position as the wife of an American counter-insurgency specialist renders her a willing conspirator in the political system that is responsible for all of the injustices, economic and otherwise, she has seen throughout her stay in that nation. In the author’s words, Rue “felt a dread, unnamable, that by not objecting she was also a part of the farce and the horror.” This sentiment nicely captures the position of Rue throughout the novel and underscores the tension that drives this insightful and intensely humane political thriller forward. Where a lesser novelist might stoop to the errant didacticism of moral high-handedness, Orth revels in parsing the complexities of ethical gray areas. Overall, a compelling and thought-provoking read.

—Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews

“The suffering of the Filipino people under the tyrannical Marcos regime is the setting for an impossible love affair in this earnest, at times elegant, graceful debut.”—Kirkus
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