When the Rainbow Goddess Wept: a very inaccurate synopsis

When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, 1994

Ok, let’s start with what I definitely remember about this book: it’s historical fiction, set in the Philippines during World War Two, and follows a young girl and her family as they face increasing hardships under the Japanese occupation, culminating in their flight into the jungle.

San Francisco, 2015

Here’s what I kind of remember: someone who is traveling with them—I want to say their cook, but I’m not sure—is a traditional storyteller and somehow—possibly after the cook dies—the main character acquires the ability to recite the ancient epics that the storyteller used to sing. There’s something important about a chicken; I think at some point they have to eat the girl’s pet chicken. And most of the Japanese occupiers are really terrible and sadistic (though I might be getting it mixed up with The Rice Mother) except maybe there’s one that’s kind of good (though I might be getting it mixed up with The Gift of Rain). And everyone is really sad and terrified when the Americans withdraw from Manila, leaving it at the mercy of the Japanese, but they believe General MacArthur when he promises them that he will return (but this definitely happened in more than one book and I can’t be certain it was in this one in particular).

Dublin, 2008

Here’s what I had completely forgotten, but have been reminded of by the internet in all its wisdom: The main character is nine years old and her name is Yvonne. When her family flees into the jungle it is not just to get away from the occupied city of Ubec, but to join the resistance. The book is an extremely bloody and graphic depiction of war, including scenes such as that in which a secondary character, Doc Menez, finding his entire family murdered in their beds, and then later reenacting the crucifixion in order to do penance for their deaths (though I do remember this part, now that I’m reminded of it—there are some old ladies who never leave the house and they ask him to change his route so he goes past their house, and the longer journey nearly kills him). And Laydan, the family cook, is explicitly teaching Yvonne how to sing the epic stories of the skyworld and the rainbow goddess that bring them all comfort while they are on the run.

Obviously it would be difficult for me to give much of an opinion on a book I remember so little of (and you might think that the lack of memory is, itself, a sort of review, but the truth is I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in almost four years and I have a hard time remembering anything that happened more than three weeks ago, which is why I’m trying so hard to post more often, so I can catch my blogging up to my reading and stop writing these reviews of books that I barely remember). I enjoyed it at the time, and it was certainly a better fictional account of World War II in the Philippines than Cry Slaughter, which I abandoned after gritting my teeth through the first half, but not as good as some of the Indonesian or Malaysian books I read dealing with the same period.

San Francisco, 2017

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