Seven books by Filipina authors you should be reading right now

The literary world is filled with amazing female writers. Just to name a few: Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith for fiction. Sylvia Plath and Warsan Shire for poetry. Joan Didion and Leslie Jamison for nonfiction. These women are masters of their craft who, through their work, also expertly convey many aspects of what it means to be a woman.

Some of you might also know that Philippine literature also has a bunch of amazing female writers in great supply, though names might not come as easily. It’s cool, we gotchu. We have a few book and author recommendations, old and new, you might wanna get your hands on. We figure you might wanna celebrate International Women’s Day with a good book.

Desire and Other Stories by Paz Latorena (UST Publishing House, 2012)

Let’s start with one of the OG’s. Paz Latorena’s teacher for short story writing was the Paz Benitez Marquez (yup, her), so you know she knew her stuff. She knew how to write female characters with strength whether within or outside the confines of marriage, they were all doing their own thing. And though during her time she was mostly eclipsed by her male peers, the advent of feminist literary criticism during the 1980s brought her out of relative obscurity, and secured her place as one of the Philippines’ best fictionists ever.

Fish-Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis (Anvil Publishing Inc, 2012)

The village of Iraya has been militarized, caught in a war between insurgents and the government. Estrella Capili is a villager with hair so voluminous, the soldiers use her hair to trawl dead bodies from the village river. “History hurts my hair, did you know that? Remembering is always bleeding out of memory, like pulling thread from a vein in the heart,” she says. Through Estrella, we are told a story of memory and violent conflict that resonates strongly today.

Travelbook by Shane Carreon (University of the Philippines Press, 2013)

The cool thing about Travelbook is that, though this poetry collection tackles many topics, the thread that runs through it is queer love, of one woman for another. It’s an experience that, despite being so distinct, proves how universal love is. We know this is true, because Carreon’s language is so luminous. “There was a pearl on the lobe of her ear. My lover / eyes it now, on the mirror, weighing it against the dark / in her hair. Curled locks, I see, unfastening themselves.” Whew.

The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven (Penguin, 2013)

Soliven’s Palanca award-winning novel covers so much ground relevant to the Filipino condition it’s difficult to choose where to begin — the immigrant experience, the political disparity between domestic workers and the upper class elite, the list goes on. Through the eyes of Amparo Guerrero, a daughter banished by her family to avoid disgrace, and Beverly Obejas, a mail-order bride born out of wedlock, we get to look at these issues and all the grit and baggage that comes with them.

Stories by Kerima Polotan (University of the Philippines Press, 1998)

“I have often been accused of patterning my fiction after true-to-life incidents, which is not quite the truth. Life, I am happy to see, has spared me nothing, and I have, in turn, given it no quarter,” Polotan writes in her author’s note, and you can tell by her prose she isn’t messing around. From her story “The Trap,” which conveys puberty as both physical pain and existential anxiety, to “The Virgin,” which navigates the woes of sexual maturity, Polotan takes an unflinching look at several facets of the female experience that inevitably hit close to home.

Love, Desire, Children, Etc: Reflections of a Young Wife by Rica Bolipata-Santos (Milflores Publishing Inc, 2005)

If fiction mirrors real-life experience, then nonfiction faithful passes it down, employing both imagination and the integrity of memory. Through Love, Desire, Children, Etc, Santos explores the multiple identities that a woman can hold wife, mother, daughter and how to reconcile them. It’s a wonderful essay collection that speaks with an assuring, been-there-done-that kind of voice not surprising for a writer also beloved as a teacher.

Sugar & Salt by Ninotchka Rosca, illustrated by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo (Anvil Publishing Inc, 2006)

The book, which reads half like history, half like a fable, begins with Tandang Sora contemplating death and the wisdom she chooses to leave behind. In Sugar & Salt, she leaves gifts in the form of stories, of how women in Philippine tribal society survived while colonizers took their land. The patriarchy might fool many into thinking that it’s men who make history, but considering the role women have played in passing knowledge down through generations, we know better.

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