Book Review: The Newspaper Widow Cecilia Manguerra Brainard Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2017
The story begins with the discovery of the dead body of Father Zafra, a Spanish Augustinian priest. During his ten years in Ubec, townspeople have appreciated him for his community programs, but there are also those who have disapproved of his involvement with legal disputes over friar lands. Thus, begins the search for the killer. Ines’ only child, Andres, is a strong suspect and is soon imprisoned.
Throughout, The Newspaper Widow provides a glimpse into an unlikely yet blossoming friendship between Ines Maceda, a recent widow tasked with taking over her late husband’s newspaper, The Ubec Daily, and Melisande Moreau, the contrastingly frilly Parisian dress shop owner residing in provincial Ubec. “She (Melisande) appeared like a mushroom that sprouts after a thunderstorm.” (p. 18)
Brainard masterfully scaffolds the story with the existent colonialism imposed upon the Philippines, and the strong influence of Catholicism. Homage is also given to the pre-colonial presence of the Babaylan: “Kidlat is a babaylan, a priestess. People say she can cause deaths and create potions to steal a man or woman’s hearts. This is all nonsense. I see her for my headaches, and she uses herbs, oils, sometimes rocks to massage me, to make me feel better…During the time of the Spanish, the babaylanes were the healers and leaders. The Spaniards went after them, accusing them of being witches, and the women had to hide. There aren’t too many babaylanesleft, but they’re still around.” (p.150)
The Newspaper Widow is a strongly character-driven period piece. As such, it offers a variety of eyes from which to experience the complexities of Philippine society as it transitioned from Spanish to American colonization.
One reason I personally enjoyed the book is that much of it takes place in Carcar, Cebu, the place of my maternal ancestral roots, a place but for a brief visit there and first meeting with relatives, I have become acquainted with only through novels like this one.