For the month of March, our book is In The Country by Mia Alvar. In The Country is a short story collection that "explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined." The stories are beautifully written, thought provoking, and provide readers with perspective of what it is like to be a part of the Filipino diaspora. In 2016, In The Country won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Alvar was born in the Philippines, grew up in Bahrain, and currently resides in New York City. She is a graduate of not one, but two, Ivy League institutions: Harvard Collection and Columbia University.
On reading and representation: "Obviously, one of the most powerful reasons to read fiction is to read about an experience that’s completely different from yours. Probably the most important reason—among many. There was a time when I was really looking for myself in fiction and sometimes having to do a lot of digging to find short stories about young girls who grew up Filipino and Catholic contending with American influences in a new country. And yeah, I think it’s powerful and affirming to see someone who looks like “you,” on the page. The way it is to encounter that same person in real life."
On the complexity of why people (im)migrate: "...it’s tempting to think of their choices as purely forced economic choices. But I don’t think it’s always as simple as that. I’m interested in the ways that these characters are not pure victims of political or economic circumstance. There are all sorts of other motivations as well that lead to them leaving home. "
On why she started writing: "I started writing pretty early, when in the Philippines, which is where I was born. Back then it was a form of entertainment. This was pre-Internet, so whenever I read a story or a poem or a book I tried to imitate it, as a way to extend the life of a book, to get more out of it. I guess what brought me to writing was the same thing that motivates people to write fan fiction."
"These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again.
A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s.
In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer."