A Professional Lola
by E.P. Tuazon
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Pub Date 07 May 2024 | Archive Date Not set
A Professional Lola is a collection of short stories that blend literary fiction with the surreal to present the contemporary Filipino American experience and its universal themes of love, family, and identity. A family hires an actress to play their beloved grandmother at a party; a couple craving Filipino food rob a panaderya; a coven of Filipino witches cast a spell on their husbands; a Lolo transforms into a Lola. These are just a few of the stories in the collection that represent its roster of stories beautifully grounded in culture and vividly and meticulously painted to make the absurd seem mundane and the commonplace, sinister. A Professional Lola embodies the joy, mystery, humor, sadness, hunger, and family that inhabit modern-day Filipino American virtues.
"A Professional Lola is a story collection that works by way of small, tiny miracles: a family hires a professional “lola”—to remember the grandmother they've lost; a couple bonds over their homesickness for just the right Filipino food—and will resort to the most drastic means to get it. In one story, a divorce lawyer wears an “elaborately embroidered white barong” to greet his firm's clients instead of a suit and tie, this white barong that hugs our hero's boss "like a coat of mist" comes to stand in for the confidence, charisma, and imperviousness to grief our narrator lacks—and must claw back through his own past to find.
Every story is madly scented with food we can't help but salivate over: “skewered lapu-lapu and blue crab” over ‘an open fire while rice steamed in banana leaves . . . the smell of mint, cilantro, kalamansi, ginger;” we crave the saba banana slices of turon that crackle and wheeze until “transformed golden brown;” the buko, ube, and red bean pandesal worth dreaming of stealing; or the bilo-bilo description that causes one twin to realize his brother has fallen in love.
These tales of Filipinos and Filipino Americans—gay, bi, straight, trans, lovelorn, longing, curious, grief-stricken and hopeful—are a breath of fresh air. Each story is like a snapshot, a curio, a windowpane glimpse into lives caught mid-moment and on the verge. Populated by ex-beauty queens and performances artists, dancers and nurses, lawyers, stick-up artists, and Bigfoot obsessives, each story is an engine unto itself. E.P. Tuazon is a bright star who is only getting started." —ZZ Packer
“The stories in A Professional Lola are hilarious, heartbreaking, and true. Like members of one big Filipino family, these characters love hard and squabble often, lose themselves in the nostalgia of suburban malls and VHS movies, and grapple with a reality mired in COVID and Duterte. These stories are simultaneously classic and urgently contemporary, and they’ll stay with you long after the final word. E.P. Tuazon is a writer to watch.” —Lysley Tenorio, author of The Son of Good Fortune
“Tuazon has a talent for merging the strangeness of the world with the emotional impact of human connectivity.” —Rebecca Rubenstein, Senior Editor for The Rumpus
“E.P. Tuazon’s unique voice captures the essence of the Filipino diaspora—the ambivalence and aches, the hopes and aspirations, but also the humor and delights.” —Cindy Fazzi, Author of My MacArthur and Multo
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 12 members
“So what brings you to the peens?”
Before I even begin, I never imagined reading this book and finding Bigfoot in it, nevermind a book in which Bigfoot referred to the Philippines as the “peens.” That sure made me laugh at how absurd it was.
I am so grateful to have received this collection of short stories as my first ARC to review. As a Filipino, I love to see an author with the same ethnic background as me share stories that feel like home. Although there were some places mentioned that I have never visited, some caricatures of types of people I have never met, and some events that I never imagined to be possible or happen to me, the overall collection felt so nostalgic. The absurdities of some events, the humor and the descriptions felt so human, but in the mundane of humanity, there were also sprinklings of magic.
Some themes such as being LGBTIA+ in a very traditional Filipino culture, making sacrifices for the ones you love, grief, internalized racism, and familial love were explored throughout the collection and I truly enjoyed reading these themes through a lens that I find so familiar to the way I was raised. Tuazon’s exploration of some of these topics pushed me to reflect on my own life and how I have conformed or broke away from the traditional culture. Have my actions been to my detriment, or am I breaking boundaries that need to be broken? These are some questions I found myself asking.
Inherent to most short story collections, there are stories that will resonate to some, and others that will fall a bit flat. Because of this, I’m rating this a 4 stars, however I think that is just something that I find with most, if not all short story collections. My favorite short stories were “Carabao," “Far From Home,” “Tiny Dancer,” and of course, the titular story, “Professional Lola.” Throughout all of the stories, the beautiful prose and descriptions provided by Tuazon were evident and enjoyable, even if some of the plots did not land for me.
Overall, I truly recommend this short story collection, especially if you are looking to read more stories with Filipino representation.
I absolutely love Filipino representation in literature. Filipino culture, traditions, superstitions, mannerisms, humor and love is so different from any other cultural group. In some way, you can categorize these stories as magical realism, but if you know Filipinos, you know that magic is part of their reality. We believe in the magical, otherworldly and supernatural and it is part of our everyday lives. These stories really manage to highlight that with a great sense of humor and a lot of heart.
At the same time, these stories live in between the Filipino and the American culture somewhere, it has the foreigners eye on the curiosities and explains it with the knowledge of the natives which makes them suitable and accessible to anyone.
The stories stay so lighthearted and tender even through heavy topics. Like in the last story “Carabao”, where a young child is trying to understand his grandfather's transitioning to a woman. And then the parallels that are drawn between his understanding of this and the Discovery rocket launch.The journey that needs to be made before it can land, just like the journey the relationship needs to take before there can be acceptance. It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s so well done.
Several stories pick up parallels like that so you get to see things from different angles and the message really comes across, but leaves us open ended still and doesn’t force anything on us. I loved spending time with professional lola, and I savored every last bite, every story.
Wow. This book was so nostalgic for me and kept me entertained the whole time. I am a Filipino myself and everything that was written in these short stories are so accurate. From the salt, lemon and vinegar to clean your chicken or any meat, Filipino witches and mythological creatures, lapu-lapu, blue crab, bilo-bilo it made me miss home so much whereas some parts made me emotional. And the love Filipinos have for each other and the connection we make for one another. THIS BOOK WAS EVERYTHING. I would definitely buy this for friends and family.
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC. This took me a few hours to read!
I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I started this book, but once I started reading I couldn't stop. As a Filipina-American with a love for magical realism, these short stories were very much aligned with my interests, and it was so refreshing to see myself represented in a simultaneously contemporary and surreal setting.
Beyond the fact of representation, I really liked the topics covered in the short stories, as well. There is a beautiful exploration of grief, family, and navigating queerness in the titular Professional Lola tale; working through the complicated nature of half-sibling relationships in After Bigfoot, and understanding a loved one's transition in Carabao. My personal favorite was probably Handog, which was centered on the strained relationship between a father and son & the ways they're able to connect (& not.)
The only thing that I didn't enjoy about some of the stories was the way some of them felt like they came to a bit more of an abrupt ending while reading them. However, I think that's more a fault of my constant desire to get more out of a short story than is in the nature of the genre, rather than a fault of this particular book itself. Reflecting on these stories a couple days after reading them (as well as revisiting them again after the first pass) allows them to settle much more satisfactorily to my mind.
Overall, I definitely recommend this for folks who are a fan of magical realism & even more so to those who are looking to read some emotional/exploratory stories, largely about family, that are deeply rooted in the Filipino-American experience. It was so delightful to see my own family/relationships reflected in these texts & I'm very grateful to E.P. Tuazon for sharing these with the world!