"The Descartes Highlands" by Eric Gamalinda

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Since finishing The Descartes Highlands I have been trying to feel qualified to review it. Multiple parallel threads, set in two time periods, laden with high choler and sometimes mysterious motivations – these are the initial challenges of this book.

Mr. Gamalinda tells the story of two young men, born to two Philippine women but fathered by one American man, who pursue answers to their mysterious pasts through different channels. One was adopted by married French filmmakers, the other by a woman who operated an abortion clinic near New York. The uncertainty of their origins, and their resulting mistrust of everyone around them, puts them at odds with their lives. The energy generated by this tension drives the narrative forward.

Well – it partly drives the narrative, because the most abundant element here is rage. The anger comes through so strongly and unremittingly that I think it can only be authorial. He directs it at American imperialism in the Vietnam War era, state corruption and oppression under Marcos, and the hopelessness still rampant in Manila. He also trains his anger at the selfish modern approach to love.

The story builds in an organic fashion, and for me, keeps the reader at a distance from the hints that would most clearly reveal plot and thematic intent. Mr. Gamalinda has produced a plaintive novel, dense with emotion and the high stakes of loving someone, in which victims abound and solutions come at staggering cost. This book focuses the reader on some demanding, timeless issues, and challenges her to bring high energy to a story crying for resolutions. I recommend this book to those with large, giving hearts, who can afford to spend the emotional capital demanded here.
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