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The Umbrella Country

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"Certain things are better kept than said. . . .
But certain things you have to find out now. . . ."

On the tumultuous streets of Manila, where the earth is as brown as a tamarind leaf and the pungent smells of vinegar and mashed peppers fill the air, where seasons shift between scorching sun and torrential rain, eleven-year-old Gringo strives to make sense of his family and a world that is growing increasingly harsher before his young eyes.

There is Gringo's older brother, Pipo, wise beyond his years, a flamboyant, defiant youth and the three-time winner of the sequined Miss Unibers contest; Daddy Groovie, whiling away his days with other hang-about men, out of work and wilting like a guava, clinging to the hope of someday joining his sister in Nuyork; Gringo's mother, Estrella, moving through their ramshackle home, holding her emotions tight as a fist, which she often clenches in anger after curfew covers the neighborhood in a burst of dark; and Ninang Rola, wise godmother of words, who confides in Gringo a shocking secret from the past--and sets the stage for the profound events to come, in which no one will remain untouched by the jagged pieces of a shattered dream.

As Gringo learns; shame is passed down through generations, but so is the life-changing power of blood ties and enduring love.

In this lush, richly poetic novel of grinding hardship and resilient triumph, of selfless sacrifice and searing revelation, Bino A. Realuyo brings the teeming world of 1970s Manila brilliantly to life. While mapping a young boy's awakening to adulthood in dazzling often unexpected ways, The Umbrella Country subtly works sweet magic.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Mar 01, 1999 – Gringo, the protagonist of Realuyo's debut novel, is an 11-year-old Filipino boy growing up in a squalid Manila neighborhood amid brutal family circumstances. He absorbs frighteningly mixed messages about sexuality and manhood from the neighborhood beauty salon owner, Boy Manicure, who preys upon young boys and is preyed upon himself for his homosexuality. Gringo's brother Pipo dresses up in women's clothing for a make-believe pageant in which he is Miss Universe, and also engages in taboo activities past curfew. Gringo stands by helplessly as his father erupts in unpredictable violence against family members. Ninang Rola, Gringo's sympathetic godmother, knows the full story behind this tragic family but keeps insisting "some things are better kept than said." That may be a part of the problem. Poet Realuyo has assembled a powerful array of characters for this coming-of-age story, but he has left them strangely ill-defined and vague. The reader knows little of the inner workings of Pipo, a pivotal figure in Gringo's life, whose example he follows into homosexual entanglements. Other characters, like Boy Spit, a compassionate, endearing love interest for the young Gringo, are potentially interesting figures, but they too are underdeveloped. Gringo moves from one observed experience to the next without giving the reader many clues as to the effect they have on him. When the chance for a new life presents itself to the family, it involves a heartbreaking split that should deliver an emotional punch, but instead is squandered in Realuyo's distancing approach.
The Umbrella Country
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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Mar 02, 1999
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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