THE NEWS­PA­PER WIDOW

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color - —MYA ALEXICE

Ce­cilia Manguerra Brainard, Philip­pine Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary House (JAN­UARY) Soft­cover $18.95 (238pp), 978-971-506811-6

While at first glance The News­pa­per Widow seems like a stan­dard his­tor­i­cal mys­tery, that couldn’t be far­ther from the truth. Ce­cilia Manguerra Brainard’s novel is full and com­plex, over­flow­ing with tex­tured, fully re­al­ized char­ac­ters who drive the story on ev­ery page.

Ines Maceda, the “news­pa­per widow,” aims to clear her son’s name. He has been ac­cused of mur­der­ing a priest. In ad­di­tion, Ines grieves for her de­ceased hus­band and com­bats the lin­ger­ing trauma of ear­lier mis­car­riages. Her de­vel­op­ment is one of the shin­ing el­e­ments of the novel—she feels tan­gi­ble, rooted in the story and the set­ting.

The News­pa­per Widow of­fers a nu­anced glance into Filipino society circa 1909. It is a world rich with his­tory, myth, and rit­ual; de­scrip­tions pulse with life, pro­vid­ing cru­cial in­sights into aspects of Filipino cul­ture and world colo­nial his­tory, such as en­coun­ters with the “Is­land of the Liv­ing Dead,” sec­tioned off to con­tain those in­flicted with lep­rosy, and once the world’s largest leper colony.

While on the sur­face the book is a crime story, the plot is ac­tu­ally lay­ered and unique. One of the novel’s great­est strengths is how it raises in­ter­est­ing, com­pli­cated ques­tions about moral­ity and jus­tice while Ines searches for the priest’s true killer: Is death ever an apt pun­ish­ment for a crime? Is re­venge moral, or even nec­es­sary? Re­fresh­ingly, noth­ing is black and white.

For all of The News­pa­per Widow’s great­ness, some­times there are too many lay­ers to the plot, and the end­ing falls a bit flat in com­par­i­son to the rest of the nar­ra­tive. But flaws are mi­nor; over­all, this is a solid, sat­is­fy­ing work of lit­er­a­ture.

Ce­cilia Manguerra Brainard dis­plays mas­ter­ful sto­ry­telling skill in The News­pa­per Widow, a unique, mem­o­rable mys­tery.

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