The Solemn Lantern Maker
Delta, 2009 (2009)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
he Solemn Lantern Maker
is Philippine author Merlinda Bobis's second novel (following
Banana Heart Summer
). Though it's set during the Christmas season, it's not a
holiday novel, but rather contrasts the seasonal celebration with political corruption, child prostitution, and people's self-centered tendency to ignore the plight of those around them.
he novel is set in Manila, where mute 10-year-old Noland makes festive lanterns out of Japanese paper, peddling them to cars stopped at a highway intersection. He's helped by his twelve-year-old friend Elvis, whose
Bobby Cool has made a substantial donation to this small start-up business. Elvis is a jaunty
, with a similar combination of amorality and affection for his younger friend.
s the duo ply their wares, Noland's attention is caught by an American woman with golden hair, an
to his innocent eyes. When Cate Burns exits her taxi to make a purchase, she's injured in a drive-by shooting of a daring journalist whose exposÚs of '
corruption and extra-judicial killing
' put him at risk. Noland bundles the unconscious Cate into his lantern cart, and he and a protesting Elvis hurry her home to the hovel Noland shares with his crippled mother, near a '
creek of fetid water
hough Noland's mother Nena also protests the danger (of attention from the authorities) the stranger brings into their lives, they do what they can for Cate while she lies in a coma. As readers get acquainted with mother and son, they wonder about the tragedy in their pasts that killed Noland's father, left him mute, and destroyed Nena's legs. The American tourist also suffered a loss, one that makes her empathize with mother and son once she regains awareness.
oon a search is mounted for the missing tourist and for the
who took her. While this goes on, Nena cares for Cate, Noland and Elvis roam the streets, and Bobby Cool makes plans for both boys. It all comes to a head when Cate is found, Nena and Noland arrested, and their past history comes to light. As Christmas dawns, matters are resolved, unfortunately not to the benefit of the poor and powerless.
he Solemn Lantern Maker
is a modern Dickensian story, rich in imagery and in the sights and smells of the Manila slums. It will not necessarily make you feel good but it will make you think.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.
Find more Contemporary books on our
or in our book