Forgiving Imelda Marcos
by Nathan Go
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Pub Date 13 Jun 2023 | Archive Date 31 Jul 2023
Nathan Go’s taut meditation on forgiveness and regret is told in the indelible voice of a Filipino chauffeur nearing the end of his life.
After suffering a serious heart injury, Lito Macaraeg reaches out to his estranged son—a journalist who lives in the United States, far from his father’s Manila nursing home—to promise him a scoop: the story of a secret meeting between Imelda Marcos and Corazon Aquino. Imelda, best known for her excessive shoe collection, was the flamboyant wife of the late Philippine dictator; Corazon was the wife of the opposition politician who was allegedly killed by the Marcoses. An unassuming housewife, Corazon rose up after her husband’s death to lead the massive rallies that eventually toppled the Marcos dictatorship.
Lito was Corazon’s personal driver for many years, and her only companion on the journey from Manila to Baguio City to meet Imelda. Throughout the long drive, Lito’s loyalty to his employer is pitted against his own moral uncertainty about her desire to forgive Imelda. But as Lito unspools his tale about two women whose choices shaped their country’s history, his own story, and failings, slowly come to light. He delves into his past: his neglectful father, who joined a Communist guerrilla movement; their life in a mountain encampment headed by a charismatic priest; and Lito’s struggles with poverty and ambition. In the end, it is Lito himself who must contemplate the meaning and possibility of forgiveness.
In Forgiving Imelda Marcos, Nathan Go weaves a deeply intimate novel of alternative history that explores power and powerlessness, the nature of guilt, and what we owe to those we love.
A Note From the Publisher
“Nathan Go weaves the tendrils of personal and national history together with such subtle and sinuous intimacy that even as they pull against each other they become ever more tightly entwined. Forgiving Imelda Marcos is a slyly captivating, quietly heartbreaking debut.” —Peter Ho Davies, author of A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself
“An exquisite psalm of a novel, part revelation, part confession, part repentance. In conversations with the grown son he barely ever knew, a father elaborates their family’s conflicted history. As he quietly composes an unsettling and beautiful portrait of generations—tragic but not without hope—he also illuminates from within the fraught histories of the Philippines in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Nathan Go’s perfectly measured, lucid prose captivates and enchants the reader like a modern hymn.” —Paul Harding, author of Enon and Tinkers
“In this wonderfully beguiling novel, the narrator, nearing death, writes to his son of the large and small matters that have shaped his life. Nathan Go’s writing is so intimate, and so persuasive, that it is as if we too, like the missing son, are listening to Lito’s tale.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in the Field
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 12 members
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending this ARC in exchange for an honest review of the book.
This book made me cry for my father.
This book made me cry for my Lolo, too.
I’ve always said that my favorite books capture political and social dynamics succinctly, and show how they impact people at the interpersonal level, and this book has done that really intentionally and directly.
The narrator was a chauffeur for Corazon Aquino, and is writing from an end-of-life care home to his son in the US. The story captures boyhood, immigration, and health struggles. It captures built community and lost family. I think it is a great introduction to Filipino history and cultural norms, for those who are looking for that.
Clearly, the author Go has come to understand a lot of the things I’ve learned in my life, and has written them—so I’m feeling seen. My father is the one who came to the US as an oldest child, who then cannot speak Tagalog but understands it. At first, it was my Lolo who came to the US to pursue his PhD, and my Lola had to stay in the Philippines alone with my dad for a few years until they were able to all be together. Similarities between the book’s plot and this story tugged at my heart strings, and even without relating directly, I bet they’ll tug at yours.
The book is short which I think is a strength, but there are some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details including character introductions and explanations of political events or cultural terms. If you’re not familiar with Filipino history, read closely.
I suggest this book highly. I’ll be purchasing it for my own apartment, for my sister, and of course, for my father. Thanks to the author Nathan Go, I look forward to seeing what you do next.