in the country book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

In the Country by Mia Alvar is a collection of finely crafted short stories about people from the Philippines. These are rich stories that span the globe from the Philippines to Bahrain to New York and places in between. In the Country is a collection of captivating snapshots of people tied to history or beauty or family or living or attempting to live in an ever changing world.

In the opening story, “The Kontrabida”, a young man returns home to the Philippines. After years of living and working in New York, he is an outsider in Manila and seeing his childhood home and family as perhaps a familiar stranger might see things. In the story “Legends of the White Lady”, a fading beauty is contemplating her empty life as she ponders leaving the modeling industry. “The Virgin of Mounte Roman” is narrated by a young man with a physical disability who relays his mother’s mystical reasoning for his deformity harkening back to the liberation of the Philippines during the Second World War. The title story, “In the Country”, is an engrossing tale that flows back and forth through time merging the Philippine history of the early 1970s with the rising coup d’état of the late 1980s. The narrator, Milagros, is both defiant and defeated. She is not one to leave her home country because life is better elsewhere. She works to make life better at home even though the work seems insurmountable.

I enjoyed each of the stories within Mia Alvar’s In the Country. These are deep narratives that indulge the senses. These are stories that a reader might devour and savor. The characters are varied from all walks of life. Within these passages, one gets a sort of backdoor access into the lives of real people in all their glory and misery.

Mia Alvar’s writing is beautiful. Her command of words brings each story alive. I could almost feel the heat and discomfort of the blistering temperatures or sultry air described with clarity and resonating with the surrounding emotion of events taking place. Alvar’s characters are vivid and multidimensional. She is showing a snapshot into the lives of seemingly real people. This is an exquisite collection of stories about people and the sense of finding community no matter where life might take them.

One could read In the Country through as a whole book in one sitting. However, I recommend reading one story at a time then take some time to savor the journey before moving on to the next story. Each story in itself is worthwhile, making the book one that a reader might want to come back to at some point in the future for another visit.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Vintage. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.