Meghan Collins Sullivan/NPR
A baking book with a recipe for adobo-flavored chocolate chip cookies. A thrilling graphic novel inspired by film noir. A lively children’s book about a little Filipino girl waiting for her dad to join her in the States.
This season’s newest books by Filipino authors offer something for every kind of reader. And they tackle a wide range of issues regarding Filipinos and the diaspora, from adapting to a new country to reckoning with the Philippines’ colonial history.
A delightful baking book that blends tropical and American flavors
Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed feels like what an Alice in Wonderland tea party would look like if a Filipino hosted it. The cookbook has gorgeous recipes for caramelized banana and jackfruit jam, ube macapuno molten lava cakes, mango float cream puffs and an intriguing adobo-flavored chocolate chip cookie.
These concoctions are from the magical mind of Abi Balingit, a Filipino American baker and blogger who in 2020 started ramping up her dessert-making game to pass the time during the pandemic. Blending island ingredients like coconut, jackfruit, mango and kalamansi, or native lime, with American flavors like red velvet, marshmallow and poppy seed in her recipes, this cookbook is not to be missed.
A sweet kids’ book about a girl waiting for her dad to join her in the States
Michelle Sterling’s latest children’s book Maribel’s Year tells the story of a little girl who just moved to the U.S. from the Philippines with her mom — and has to wait a full year until her dad can join them from Manila. Month by month, the girl settles into her new country while reminiscing about life back home in the Philippines.
Sterling’s descriptive writing uses all five senses to evoke American and Philippine culture, from the flavors of saltwater taffy and shrimp paste to the feeling of “pumpkin mush” at Halloween and the “crinkly yellow paper” of a package from her dad. Paired with sumptuous illustrations of the changing seasons and family life by Filipino Canadian artist Sarah Gonzalez, these sensations come alive on every page.
A page-turner of a graphic novel set in Depression-era California
Cartoonist Rina Ayuyang’s thrilling, fast-paced graphic novel The Man in the McIntosh Suit goes back in time to California in the late 1920s, when Filipinos arrived to the U.S. hoping to strike it rich — but faced the harsh reality of racial discrimination and restrictions on everything from jobs to property rights.
In this setting, readers follow Bobot, a Filipino immigrant with a law degree (now relegated to menial farm work) as he searches for his estranged wife Elysia. Tipped off by a mysterious letter, Bobot travels from rural California to San Francisco to find his beloved — but finds himself in a wild goose chase involving gangsters and a famous singer named Estrella. Ayuyang’s illustrations, drawn in quick, sketchy strokes and colored in soft shades of inky blue, pay homage to film noir — and underscore the secrets that hide in the dark.
A cerebral novel about a woman looking for a place that may or may not exist
Gina Apostol, whose books have won a PEN/Open America Award and a Philippine National Book Award, is out with her latest novel since Insurrecto in 2018: La Tercera. It tells the story of Rosario, a Filipino writer from New York City, as she embarks on a mission to find a place called La Tercera after her mother dies. La Tercera is her mother’s supposed inheritance — but as Rosario investigates, she only uncovers more questions about her family’s legacy and heritage.
Packed with pop culture and literary references from Saturday Night Fever to Alfred Lord Tennyson, and untranslated words and phrases in Tagalog, Spanish and Waray, a regional Philippine language, the weighty prose forces the reader to confront the country’s legacy of Spanish colonialism, American imperialism and the suppression of indigenous culture. It also emphasizes the difficulty that Rosario faces in piecing together her family’s fragmented past. This book is a must-read for lovers of literature, history and language.