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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Soledad's Sister

Jose Dalisay

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase In Flight

Title: Soledad's Sister
Author: Jose Dalisay
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 205 pages
Availability: in In Flight - US
in In Flight - UK
in In Flight - Canada
Soledad - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine novel of modern-day the Philippines (and beyond) and personal struggles; fine writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Philippine Daily Inquirer . 7/11/2008 Sarge Lacuesta
Publishers Weekly . 28/3/2011 .
SCMP A 4/4/2010 Nick Walker

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though the frame story takes place over only three days, the separate accounts of each of the main characters tightly bridge plot and points of view, so that the novel easily gains scope and momentum as the van and its strange cargo of bedfellows covers more ground toward Manila and many unexpected parts within. (...) But what Dalisay makes us share most are his sharp observations on the bright, dark city of Manila itself, its vast, seeming omniscience, its near-complete sentience" - Sarge Lacuesta, Philippine Daily Inquirer

  • "Solidad's Sister is less powerful. Identities are confused and altered intentionally or through bureaucratic incompetence. The situations that unfold in the novel's compacted timeframe reveal "how much worse bad can get." Though it will keep readers on the edge of their seats, a late twist is disappointing." - Publishers Weekly

  • "It is an extraordinary fictive depiction of ordinary Philippine lives redefined by the arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport of the cadaver of a young woman in a casket. (...) This superb book -- one of the greatest Asian novels of this young century, thus far" - Nick Walker, South China Morning Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       With an Author's Preface explaining that Jose Dalisay came to think that the diaspora of Filipinos, working abroad and sending remittances home to support family, is: "surely the big story of our late 20th century", and with a premise that, as the jacket copy for the American edition has it, "seems drawn from today's headlines", readers might fear to find Soledad's Sister is a social-polemical novel -- and, as such, more focused on message than craft. Fortunately, author Dalisay shows a deft, nuanced touch, both in his story and in his writing, and Soledad's Sister turns out to be a very fine novel, beyond its motives and inspiration.
       The novel begins with the body of Aurora V. Cabahug -- so the official manifest -- being returned to Manila from Jeddah, where she had been employed, and where she drowned. Her corpse is one of some six hundred that return home via Ninoy Aquino International Airport this way annually.
       As it turns out, the dead young woman is not Aurora V. Cabahug, but rather her sister, Soledad; Aurora -- known as Rory -- is alive and well. A junior municipal policeman in the town where Rory lives, Walter G. Zamora, looks into the case and quickly clears up this mistake (Soledad had traveled abroad under her sister's passport); he then also heads for Manila with Rory to collect the corpse.
       Both Rory and Walter have few people close to them. Walter was married and had a child, but wife and son had long been living abroad; his mother and sister live in Manila, but he is more or less estranged from them. Rory looks after Soledad's young child, but her parents are both dead. (And so, yes, the title of the book and the dead woman -- 'solitude', or loneliness -- is a bit heavy-handed .....)
       Dalisay allows events to unfold slowly, fleshing out his characters, following them closely -- and only slowly filling in the details about Soledad. She had worked in Hong Kong previously, but returned suddenly; she never revealed who the father of her child was, nor what happened in Hong Kong (something that meant that she had to travel under a different name when she next went abroad). Only at the very end is her time -- and apparent end -- in Saudi Arabia described. A complicated character, much also weighed on her. Her years abroad were devoted to supporting Rory, and then also her son, and trying to allow for a family-life back in the Philippines; the awful reason behind her sacrifice is also eventually revealed.
       Walter and Rory's journey is something of an odyssey, as they face everything from bureaucracy to bathroom stalls that won't lock properly. It's in these small details that Dalisay excels, creating two compelling characters (and, eventually, in Soledad, an appropriately more shadowy third).
       There's more than just the round trip to their trip, too, as both literally lose their families along the way again -- Walter losing track of his mother and sister, and an incident with their van leaving Soledad to relive (so to speak) her apparent fate. What seems a fairly far-fetched turn of events also allows for Dalisay's more hopeful ending, as Soledad proves shadowy and elusive to the last; indeed, it shouldn't be forgotten that the novel is titled Soledad's Sister, and that it is, indeed, Rory's story more than Soledad's.
       Dalisay rarely forces any of the issues in Soledad's Sister, and doesn't insist on neat and absolute resolutions. There is a great deal of personal uncertainty, with Walter unsure of where many of his family members are and many mysteries remaining around Soledad (at least for those that knew her; several of the mysteries are revealed to the reader), and there is tragedy as well -- there are several deaths (and, tellingly, uncertainty clouds all of them). Nevertheless, there is also some sense of hope and even justice -- but just the right dash of it, Dalisay careful not to promise or suggest too much.
       A good introduction to a fine writer, Soledad's Sister is an often subtle and artfully crafted novel. One might say it's an excellent treatment of the subject matter, but where it excels is exactly in not 'treating' some subject matter or forcing an issue, but rather in focusing mainly on the lives of those affected and conveying much more simply in that way.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 August 2012

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Soledad's Sister: Reviews: Other books by José Dalisay under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Leading Filipino author José Y. Dalisay Jr. was born in 1954.

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© 2012-2022 the complete review

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