Tall Story is a touching, poignant story about family, sibling love, infusion of cultures, and sports. More specifically, the novel tackles the importance of being with our families, appreciating and taking care of our siblings, Filipino and British cultures (their similarities and differences), and the love of basketball. Take all these ingredients together, and here's a lovely story that will inevitably leave a mark in the reader's heart.
Bernardo is a sixteen-year-old full-blooded Filipino who lives with his aunt and uncle in the barrio of San Andres, Montalban province, waiting for his immigration papers to be approved so that he could be reunited with his family in London: his mother Mary Ann, her British husband Tim, and his half-sister, Andi. At 16, he stands 8 feet tall - lanky and huge and awkward and, poor boy, suffering from gigantism. On the other side of the world, diminutive Andi eagerly waits for the arrival of her older brother, both curious and excited because of her mother’s description of Bernardo’s height – he was tall, she said. See, Andi loves basketball with all her heart, and she was looking forward to playing in her school's girls basketball team - that is, until circumstances forcibly take away that one thing from her. A shame, too, because she never misses a basket. Ever.
Their tale begins with the arrival of Bernardo at Heathrow. From there, London-based Filipina author Candy Gourlay takes the reader back to the Philippines via Bernardo’s point of view, describing the antecedents prior to his arrival in London, alternating with Andi’s point of view, who, in turn, narrates her own life and the family’s situation before Bernardo set foot in Britain. Cleverly infused into the story is the Philippine mythological epic hero, Bernardo Carpio, a giant; the people of earthquake-prone San Andres staunchly believe that their own gentle giant, Bernardo, is the reincarnation of the persona of the epic hero. For as long as Bernardo is in San Andres, the townsfolk insist, San Andres is earthquake-safe.
There is also the town’s resident black magic “witch,” Mad Nena, and her equally crazy daughter Gabriela, who figures in Bernardo’s life in a major way. The Filipinos’ love for basketball is epitomized not only by Andi but also by Jabby, Bernardo’s childhood friend, whose character is also key in establishing a connection between the life that Bernardo left behind in the Philippines and the one that he is living now, in a foreign land.
The various aspects of everyday life, colorful characters and infusion of cultures therefore make Tall Story a very interesting and fun read. The writing was simple and straightforward, even offering translations and/or explanations that would account for the diversity in language between the two countries involved. I could not think of a single character that wasn’t likeable or real – even Mad Nena and her daughter Gabriela were perfectly-portrayed “villains” who everyone is justified to hate - or laugh at, perhaps? Bernardo’s gentle giant demeanor and inner conflicts will tug at the heartstrings, to which Andi’s seeming impertinence and stubbornness are a complement.
Unfortunately, these flawlessly interwoven arcs and character traits also make for a rather predictable storyline. By the time I was through reading the halfway mark, I knew, more or less, how everything will tie up in the end – don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all-is-well-that-ends-well endings. But the obviousness of the plot left an I’ve-seen-this-in-a-Hollywood-family-movie-before feeling that was difficult to shake off. Feel-good vibes notwithstanding.
Over the weekend, the book club had a very fulfilling and interesting discussion over cupcakes and (iced) tea. We talked about our siblings, our relationships with them, and we showed our appreciation for the people we consider our siblings among the members of the club. The discussion was short but no less rewarding, and I have learned to appreciate sibling relationships – enough to work on mine, perhaps someday.
|The participants of the Tall Story discussion. 08.31.13 Sophie's Mom, Taguig|
Book Details: Trade paperback, Christmas gift from Aldrin (thank you!)