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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



May in the Valley of the Rainbow

by
Funado Yoichi


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase May in the Valley of the Rainbow



Title: May in the Valley of the Rainbow
Author: Funado Yoichi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 477 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: May in the Valley of the Rainbow - US
May in the Valley of the Rainbow - UK
May in the Valley of the Rainbow - Canada
  • Japanese title: 虹の谷の五月
  • Translated by Eve Alison Nyren

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Our Assessment:

B : occasionally clunky, but adventurous enough

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       May in the Valley of the Rainbow is largely set in a small Philippine town called Garsoponga. The novel is divided into three parts, each recounting the events of May of three successive years, 1998 through 2000, and it narrated by a teenage boy, Toshio Manahan -- known as 'Japino' because he is half-Japanese. His prostitute-mother died of AIDS when he was three, and after that he came to live in this very rural area with his grandfather. An old rebel fighter, the grandfather now raises and fights cocks.
       Garsoponga is a small and fairly close-knit community. Japino and his grand-father are somewhat outsiders, but they are close to several other locals, including Ramon -- the local intellectual -- and his young sister Meg, as well as Granny Liberta, an elderly neighbour that they all help take care of. There's also the semi-mythical 'Valley of the Rainbow', a place where one can see a fantastic circular rainbow when the conditions are right. Japino is the only one who knows how to get there -- and one of the reasons he goes there occasionally is to visit José Mangahas, Granny Liberta's son, a former commander in the Negros Island New People's Army who had been expelled from the group but continued to fight the Philippine government, all on his own.
       Life is pretty simple in Garsoponga, but there are those who have grander ambitions -- whether locally or in the big cities. And when a woman who had left town years earlier and had done very well for herself -- by marrying a rich, old Japanese artist -- returns for a brief visit she unsettles the entire area. 'Queen', as she likes to be called, sends money ahead of her arrival for a proper house to be built and the road to it to be paved so she can arrive and stay in some comfort. She flashes and tosses her money around, and even offers to take one of the local girls with her to Japan, to follow in her footsteps, but she wreaks more havoc than she actually helps the locals.
       Queen also has an ulterior motive in returning, and part of that involves getting to the Valley of the Rainbow. Since Japino is the only one who knows how to get there, he gets drawn into that -- with fairly disastrous results. And thus a cycle begins, of Japino travelling to the Valley of the Rainbow every May, and lots of people winding up dead.
       Funado's novel is a mix of panoramic adventure tale and coming-of-age story. The once-a-year focus makes for an oddly episodic format -- a lot happens in that brief time each year, and then the book just jumps ahead to the next action-packed sequence, a year later. Progress comes in annual spurts, it seems. A colourful cast of characters -- from local (generally corrupt or incompetent) law enforcement to the cock-fighting crowds to a noble Japanese doctor to a variety of former and would-be freedom fighters -- makes for a number of fairly interesting plot-threads, though Funado has a bit of trouble juggling everything he's trying to weave together in this sprawling yet localized story.
       Japino is an appealing narrator, and his youth -- he's thirteen when the novel opens -- and naïveté make for a ready excuse for some of the simpler story-telling. Still, Funado does get too bogged down in some of his scenes and explanations (the treatment of AIDS in the novel, for example, or trying to explain Filipino kidnapping and anti-government actions), trying to spell them out rather than conveying them as part of the action. Much is far-fetched, too, but in the spirit of adventure that can more readily be accepted. Worse is that the book gets so overcrowded that some of the story-lines are not properly utilised: the village priest is homosexual and has his own local boy-toy, for example, but that seems there only for one particular scene at the end, and there's also a messy local case of incest which he could have done more with. (In the latter case Funado does nicely show how awful the police are when he has the victim and perpetrator carted away in the same car, but most of the rest surrounding this is rushed through.) Told from Japino's perspective it is understandable that the boy is not aware of everything that is going on -- and doesn't always understand it even when he sees it -- but occasionally that can get frustrating for the reader.
       Much of May in the Valley of the Rainbow is a boyhood adventure-novel, and as such it is, for the most part, fairly gripping. Funado's writing tends to be too wooden to carry off real emotion -- there are a few tragic deaths and lots of weeping over dead bodies, but there's little that's truly and effectively moving. Indeed, Funado is much better in portraying injustices (which are frequent) than tragedy, and Japino's (often frustrated) sense of fairness is much more powerful -- and conveyed better -- than his (or any one else's) sense of grief. But there are enough plot twists and folk with evil ambitions (plus the requisite good guys) to make for a page-turner. Despite it's length -- and the occasional heavy-handedness and oversimplification --, May in the Valley of the Rainbow is an entertaining roller-coaster of a read. Ultimately, there's enough to it, and enough here -- of the Philippines, of these many different lives and lifestyles, of friends and family and loyalties -- that it 's an enjoyable pass-time read.

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Links:

May in the Valley of the Rainbow: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Funado Yoichi (船戸与一) is a popular Japanese author.

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© 2008-2009 the complete review

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