The Manila Times

The rise of Filipino writers overseas


FILIPINOAmerican writers continue to publish major books with the mainstream publishing houses in the West. These are the three forthcoming titles slated for release from 2023 to 2025. Pre-orders are now available; these orders help because they are also a gauge of the number of copies the bookstores will order for your books.

The UK-based Bookseller, which has been “at the heart of the book trade since 1858,” reported on the major book deal that Bantam has landed with Samantha Sotto-Yambao’s fantasy novel. This novel forms part of a two-book deal.

Water Moon is Samantha’s fifth novel, and it will hit the bookshelves for the autumn collection in 2024 or spring of 2025. According to Publishers Weekly, she signed a six-figure deal with Del Rey Books for the English rights to her fifth novel, which was pitched as “Erin Morgenstern meets Studio Ghibli.” Magic realism also hovers over this new novel.

Samantha’s latest novel has an attention-grabbing plot. It follows “a woman who inherits a pawnshop in Tokyo where you can sell your regrets.” But when the woman’s father disappears, she sets out to find him with the help of a “charming” young physicist. This is her UK debut.

Water Moon will be published under Del Rey Books, an imprint under Ballantine Books, Random House and Penguin Random House. She published her first two novels, Love and Gravity and Before Ever After, with Random House.

I brought a copy of Love and Gravity with me during my peripatetic travels as head of School-English at the University

of Nottingham Malaysia in 2018. Samantha has a gift for the narrative, deftly handling the twists and turns of her timetravel novel with grace.

At Del Rey Books, she joins a raft of prolific science-fiction and fantasy authors such as Isaac Asimov, Naomi Novik, Pierce Brown and Kiersten White. Founded in 1977, Del Rey is one of the biggest science-fiction and fantasy imprints in the world.

Samantha published her first novel, Before Ever After, in 2011, followed by Love and Gravity in 2017. Her independent novels, A Dream of Trees and The Beginning of Always, were published in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Moreover, Gina Apostol will publish La Tercera, her next novel after the US edition of Bibliolepsy. In La Tercera, Apostol has assembled a version of Philippine history from the 19th century to the present day in the fragmented story of the Delgados, a family surviving across generations of colonization, catastrophe and war.

In a plot point that takes off from her earlier novel Insurrecto, in this new novel we have Rosario, a Filipino woman novelist in New York City, who just learned of her mother’s death in the Philippines. But instead of rushing home, she postpones her return and sets off to investigate her family’s history and her mother’s supposed inheritance, a place called La Tercera, which may or may not exist.

Like her earlier novel, La Tercera is shaping up to be a postmodern romp, filled with different kinds of prose and printed matter. Rosario catalogs generations of the Delgado family bequests and detritus: wayward maps, rusted chicken coops, a secret journal, the lyrics of a song sung at the family home during visits from Imelda Marcos.

Like Russian dolls opening onto other dolls, each life Rosario explores opens onto an array of other lives, raising many new questions. But as the search for La Tercera becomes increasingly complex, Rosario’s mother and the entire Delgado family are shown as complex beings: traitors and heroes, reactionaries and revolutionaries. The Philippines’ vanished history of exploitation and death under the hands of the American military forces also takes shape in this novel where the eyes of history are forever open.

I asked my sister, who was visiting Manila, to buy for me a copy of F.H. Batacan’s new book of stories called Accident Happen. It is a short story collection billed as “relentlessly intense and darkly compelling as her debut, the Filipino crime landmark Smaller and Smaller Circles, which was turned into a film.

Her first novel was an instant classic when it was published in 1999, a masterpiece of Filipino crime that won the Philippine Book Award. It also became a bestseller. In her second work of fiction, she gives us “a farranging collection that explores the darkest corners of human experience, depicting with pitchblack humor the systems of class and politics that her characters are trapped in, and the moments when violence — accidental or otherwise — can, at any moment, shatter their lives.”

The catalogue of stories is enough to keep you up the whole night long. The driver for a wealthy family is the sole witness in the disappearance of the family’s 12-year-old son. A field investigator for the World Health Organization goes around the world, giving presentations about a biomedical enzyme that will erase the human race. And Father Augusto Saenz, the Jesuit priest and forensic anthropologist from Smaller and Smaller Circles, returns to investigate the murder of a woman with a secret life.

All of these three women writers live overseas where they don’t have to contend with the weak Wi-Fi, the horrendous traffic and the toxic politics of their native land. Maybe it’s an RX for those of us who want to write more books of fiction for the local and global markets.

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