Please post blog responses here.  Also, please note that we don’t want to critique the writing of the lolas, but rather look at the way those transcriptions work in the context of the book as a whole.  How does the weaving of the author’s story with the lola’s story work?  What can we learn about writing a book like this (not primarily about oneself)?  I’d also like you to think of some questions you can ask Evelina herself when she is with us in a couple weeks.

 

lolas-house

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22 thoughts on “Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living With War

  1. This book moved me. Despite the violent content, the story of the Lolas moved me with their survival and their love and support for one another.
    In regards to craft, the thing that I was keenly aware of was the form that Galang chose to tell these stories—the Lolas and her own.
    I could be wrong, but this brilliantly written book reads as an adventurous braided memoir.
    The three separate strands (that I noticed and interpreted) are the Lola’s memoir (transcripts), Evelina’s understanding of heritage and home and her struggle to find her identity as a Filipina woman inside her American upbringing, and a place (the external present time where the ladies picket and protest and live and dance).
    These three strands are woven expertly together to reveal more about the writer and her interviewees, as well as showing a greater stake of global context.
    She separates the book into sections, which make it easier to digest given the violent content.
    I was so impressed with how she chose to weave their stories together with each chapter and braid, finding more and more commonalities between herself and her Lolas set against the backdrop of a world who wants to forget them, that I dog-eared entire chapters to use as a mold for my own (hopefully) braided memoir one day.
    I think this type of weaving is essential at adding to a memoir. It raises the stakes because a braided essay brings in the external, something from outside the memory, the personal, which adds a global or cultural context. It brings the world inside the memoir and tries to find a common ground, a common thread.
    What is also interesting to me is that all three strands are deeply rooted in “place.” She begins introducing the reader to their place while also letting us know that she struggles to fit in at their place. Once she interviews the Lolas and transcribes their experience, she realizes that a new place has been formed, in words, in love, in pain, as well as in this book.
    She describes each room, each piece of land, each trench, each ditch, each hillside, each cave, each dance, each snuggle and sniff of the Lolas, each graffiti-ridden wall near each picket line. These descriptions of place are so rich with culture and pain and endurance.
    Galang uses language, also. She uses the vehicular language of English, which shows she knows her target audience. But, she is able to use the Filipina language to show history, context, nationality, and belonging, especially as the story deepens.
    This is personal. We read of her connection to the people and the land. As I have already stated, she struggles with feeling too American, not Filipino enough. In these moments, this becomes thematic of finding/going home.
    And, her reflections during these chapters were also painful to read. I could feel her worry and ache that she was not doing enough, that she was not using her voice enough in the Lolas fight: Her voice that was used to scream the truth and ask for answers.
    Her repetitions in both craft and theme shone: Of the Lolas dancing, touching, breathing, and sniffing. Of belonging, aching, identity, home, and survival.

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    1. Holly, I would agree this could be seen as an adventurous braided memoir, and am glad you focused a large chunk of your comments on the strands of those braids. It’s an important structural choice, the pros and cons of which we’ll discuss tonight.

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  2. By prominently relying on the testimony of the Lolas’ to capture their voices, Lolas’ House is a good example of the power interviewing and first-person accounts can have on a story; especially when there is a power disparity. One that I’d keep in mind if I ever decided to try and tell an indigenous story.

    Sometimes the way Galang tried to frame the Lolas’ story fell flat to me—either through her use of simile, which I found effectual around fifty percent of the time; or her phrasing which I thought came across as hackneyed in certain places. At some points it seemed as though Galang was determined to try and make the Lolas’ story as powerful as possible and ends up resorting to grand simile’s which don’t work. For example, saying “their voices rising up like hope” (104); “her heels clicked on the wood like the pulse of a giant heart beating in metro Manila” (140); “the music vibrating in the photos and it is as if joy has taken over the entire room” (182) or explicitly stating that the Lola’s story filled the landscape. I understand that similes aren’t necessarily true, in class Dr. St Germain has mentioned the example of describing a mayor eating like a pig, however I think these are trying to do too much with too little. I think it’s always asking too much of a simile when connecting it to something abstract like hope or joy. If you’re going to make a comparison to something generic, in my opinion, it’s imperative that you’re both deliberate and sparing with it. Perhaps the point is to prove the global consequence/ universality of the Lola’s stories. However, I feel like Galang can get so intent on comparing the Lolas to something bigger than themselves that the simile is trying too hard.

    By contrast, Galang’s similes are more impactful when the comparison is smaller and specific to the place or experience being described. For example, “a bone juts out of place, jagged as the tip of a bayonet” (208) and “line them up to bake under the sun; like grains of sisid rice, they scattered the courtyard” (141). Even though it doesn’t use like or as, the paper doll comparison on page 60 to the Lola being tied to other girls is equally as specific and powerful. These similes both center the reader in place (baking sisid rice on the street is unique to the Philippines) and the experience of the Lolas and the Japanese soldiers. In this way the simile is able to take on a bigger meaning even though the comparison itself is small.

    Furthermore, Galang mentions in an interview that she is a fiction writer which I believe is evident in Lolas’ House due to the intense focus on body parts and how the Lolas as characters move in space throughout the novel. Anytime Galang is interviewing a Lola with her camcorder she mentions how she is shooting the Lola’s eye, or ear, or mouth—very rarely her whole face. In addition, sometimes Galang focuses these physical descriptions on hands specifically. When Galang and her American posse allow the Lolas to lay their hands on them, or a Lola’s hands while she is dancing or talking animatedly. Or along with other body language conveying vulnerability while being interviewed as a Lola wraps her arms around herself protectively. Or even to convey age as is the case with Lola Josefa Lopez Villamar in “Village of Love”. I think the focus on hands specifically is interesting if you think about the phrase “get your hands off of me” and given the shared experience the Lolas have with each other of lots of unwanted hands touching them.

    Some questions I have about Lola’s House include the following:
    • I’d like to know what factors (if any) went into making the decision on whether to include the Lola’s testimony as a single block of text or break it up with present day interactions with the Lola. Personally, I preferred the sections where the Lola’s testimony was broken up by Evalina’s interactions with them because they read faster.
    • To the best of my ability, it seems to me that Evalina’s 2002 interactions with the Lolas occur in the present tense, the Lolas testimony occurs in past tense and there are a couple of POV changes to second person for a couple of Lolas. I think it makes sense to have the testimony in past tense. However, because Evalina’s 2002 interactions with the Lolas occurs in present tense I originally thought the book was published somewhere around 2008 or 2009 and I was surprised by the afterword (and that it was published in 2017). I don’t necessarily dislike the use of present tense, I am just curious about her choice to use it given it happened so long ago at this point. Relatedly, from what I can tell, Evalina uses second person “you” when addressing a Lola who has died over the course of her writing this book; however, in an interview Evalina has said that all of the Lolas in the book except for one have passed away, so why not use the “you” present tense for all of the 2002 interactions with the Lolas?
    • I interpreted Evalina shooting different parts of a Lola’s faces one at a time and hardly ever the whole thing at once as a way of visually demonstrating how trauma survivors only remember certain aspects. I’d like to know though if this was a deliberate intention on her part or not, and if that was what she wanted the reader to take away from it.
    o Relatedly, I’d like to know what made her choose writing a novel versus putting together a documentary movie when there are many parts while Evalina is interviewing or travelling with the Lolas that clearly want to be the latter.
    • I am also curious about the font choice Evalina made for the section headings. It is very creative and different, almost looking hand written like it was scratched into something. I was wondering if she chose this font to give the Lolas even more agency—making it seem as if it was their hand writing? Or because the whole book (with pictures, maps, and itineraries) struck me as formatted like a journal one would keep on this journey, if it was meant to represent Evalina’s handwriting—so that in reading Lolas’ House it was like the reader was experience Evalina’s field notes/journaling.

    ~~Not part of my 500 words ~~

    One thing that reading this book has shown me is how current events inside a country can shape how other, tangentially related items are received. I began trying to read this book over the summer but was only able to get through the first ninety pages. However, I spent the entire day on Thursday listening to the Kavanaugh hearing and the first half of Friday waiting to see how the committee would vote. Consequently, went I returned to reading Lola’s House I found myself engaged with their stories on a more visceral level. When I read the section Coercion about H.R. 121, I was filled with a sense of pride for Congress—a strange feeling given the current backdrop and how they handled the allegations against Kavanaugh. When I read that even as recently as 2017 the Japanese prime minister has not apologized to the women, I was stuck with how stubborn and prideful governments can be. Then because my head was filled with all of this, the section Japanese Leftovers became my favorite of the book, because Evalina included testimonies from a couple of Lolas detailing what it was like for them after the war a bit more.

    Another similarity I continued to draw was the role of memory and what parts of trauma are remembered by the brain. In Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony of her experience, she stated that “indelible in the hippocampus is the memory of their laughter.” Many of the sixteen stories recounted by the Lola’s start and are centered around the moment when they were ripped from their normal lives and captured by the Japanese. Yes, the trauma of their rape is also part of their story, but for the most part there is less detail save for a few especially traumatizing facts (like a soldier putting out a cigarette on your breasts or stabbing a fellow captive in the vagina.) This and Dr. Ford’s testimony got me thinking about (read: slightly obsessed with) how memory works in trauma survivors. A recent NPR article mentions how victims tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for life even if it doesn’t include every detail. (There is also a NY Times article on the same thing too if you’re curious.) Reading Lola’s House triggered this for me because I think it fits with how many of the Lola’s stories focus heavily on how they were abducted from their lives and their family—an event which must have been as traumatic and frightening as the act of the raping itself.

    Furthermore, throughout Lola’s House author Evalina Galang talks about how the stories are affecting her as she tries to go through and translate the tapes, or as she is interviewing the Lolas, or re-enacting what happened to them. I found this fascinating in light of what is happening with Dr. Ford because of a similar impact her testimony is having on a large portion of the country. There are wide reports of a lot of women breaking down and crying during Dr. Ford’s powerful testimony (like this ThinkProgress report here). My mother read an article arguing that not only trauma survivors were crying, but a lot of women have the fear or understanding that they could easily be the ones assaulted and they’ve just been lucky up until now. This is similar to what Evalina went through while she was interviewing the Lola’s. Galang has stated in interviews that she included the reflective sections about what was happening to her physically as a way to buffer the reader. However, it wasn’t enough of a buffer for me. In the sense that her physical reaction to the “stories entering her body” did not cause me to be either more sympathetic towards the Lolas or less. I was neutral about Evalina’s own reaction to their story. I think Evalina should’ve had more trust in the reader to react emotionally but also able control their emotions.

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      1. Hi Jessica, I liked your statement “This is similar to what Evalina went through while she was interviewing the Lola’s. Galang has stated in interviews that she included the reflective sections about what was happening to her physically as a way to buffer the reader. ” This gave me more insight into the author. Thank you for sharing. Renee’.

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    1. Jessica I am so glad you brought up current events, which are eerily relevant, and I know we’ll discuss in class. I think your criticism regarding her use of simile should also lead to a useful discussion about the judicious use of simile and metaphor in books like this.

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  3. I have a lot of thoughts, so I’m gonna just dive in:
    I loved the way Galang brought place into the story. As she traveled with the Lola’s to the places where they were raised or abducted, she conveyed how their stories filled the landscape, and how the landscape filled their bodies right back. When Lola Cristita tells her story, Galang describes their trip back to her homeland. Lola Cristita’s story, in her own words, is interwoven with details from their trip. Galang describes the locations as Lola Cristita recounts the events. Galang writes, “Today the sun is so hot and the water crashes everywhere. I hand my camera to Sol and I walk over to Lola Cristits to hold her body as it shakes, as the tears fall out of her and her story fills the landscape” (92). I thought this particular depiction of trauma was especially poignant given that the Lolas’ ethnic and national identity was the cause of their enslavement. Their homes became the sites of their traumas, giving them no place to return to, nowhere to be at home.
    However, they carry their homes with them. Galang writes about this in Lola Atanacia’s story, “Up close, you can see the roadmap of her face – a thousand fine grooves etched deep and crisscrossing over her beautiful face, sliding up her cheekbone and around her painted mouth… The rouge of bougainvillea… She has powdered her face so the colors blend like a sunset” (189). Here, Galang gives beauty to the way Lola Atanacia carries her history. There is reverence here, while there is also the manifestation of place and nature in the flowers and the sunset. There are two sides to this history, and Galang captures the depths of the Lola’s joy and beauty just as much as she captures the weight of their experiences.
    One of the passages that stuck out to me the most was Remedious Felias’s quilted testimony (226). While I love to write, there is something permanent about sewing, especially depicting a scene in fabric as Lola Remedios did. While words can be lost or mistranslated, an image like the ones she sewed cannot. There is no misinterpreting the violence, and the way Galang describes the detail helps immensely. There is the fence made of a literal chain stitch and the scattered threads of her hair. I love to sew, so I also know how much work this piece must have required. There is a dedication and diligence that sewing, especially by hand, requires. I admire this Lola’s perseverance in telling her story, and I am so moved by this piece. Also, from the angle of “women’s work,” she has claimed the medium of fabric as a form of protest, of breaking her silence. Something that, from an American lens, has been disregarded as a craft and seen as the responsibility of wives has been repurposed to serve a greater purpose and be a higher art form than just the utility that a blanket typically serves.

    One question I have, though not craft-related, is why does Galang have an M in front of her name? Is it an initial or a title? I’m just curious. My more serious questions are:
    1. Who was Galang’s target Audience
    a. Did this influence the book being written in English (i.e. are Americans the target audience, and if yes, why?)
    2. What kind of response does she hope that the book will have?
    3. Did Galang find writing around other people’s voices limiting to her own craft? Did she find it freeing?

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    1. Hi Rachel, As I ponder over your first question “Who was Galang’s target Audience?” Personally, I believe this story can resonate across the borders…I for one, being a woman of color can see “some” similarities in what my people went through during slavery. Therefore, I certainly connected to the author’s story. I believe this story was bigger than a “certain type” of audience, but rather awareness to injustice.

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    2. Great questions for Evelina, Rachel. The M. in front of Evelina’s name is simply an initial for her actual first name, which I think is Mary or Marie. Sometimes in Catholic families, and I don’t know if this is the case in Evelina’s family, many of the children of a particular sex have the same first name and different middle names, and wind up going by their second name. But you could certainly ask Evelina what her thinking is about using the M.

      I am glad to see you discussing at length the particular ways she uses place. This would be an excellent thing to focus on for a final critical essay, looking across a couple of books to analyze how place is utilized in a craft context.

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  4. I read this book over the summer, but the stories were so powerful that I can vividly remember the weight of the stories told, as well as Evelina’s own life and experiences working with the Lolas. Reading Lolas’ House was like truly entering a world previously shielded from history, and I found myself researching more after finishing the book. This book had a different theme than the others we have read before – it was the concrete, explicit sections of retelling violence from the Lolas that created a collective identity and experience translated beyond Tagalog, into the present.
    The way this book is constructed is different from what I expect from creative nonfiction, but I believe it couldn’t have been structured any differently. Using pictures created a sense of place and visual connection, whether it be a map, from a rally, or of a Lola. Some of the most powerful pictures used were those of drawings from the Lolas (51, 226). Also, having poetry and unique formatting throughout the book added another creative element to Evelina and the Lolas storytelling (201). What the Lolas created while in the home connected to the stories they were telling, adding another thread beyond Evelina’s personal experience, the sections in which the Lolas were divided, and their present-day fight for their justice. It was these different formats and braided themes that worked to enrich the different stories.
    The sections that were untranslated from the Lolas also worked for me as a reader (60-62). This craft decision further highlighted the ways in which there is a measurable distance between Evelina and the Lolas, despite being Filipino. Having these sections untranslated creates a distance between the reader and the word, but illustrates the same emotions – that there is not always a level of relatability meant to be felt by these stories. Instead, Evelina’s use of unaltered language presents the stories as they are told. There are even moments where the text reads, “there is no other way to say this.” On page 125, it reads, “Sometimes the translation of words does not hold the energy of the action. The sentiment is lost. The translation, lost.” It is the stripped down language, the concrete language, and the different language that highlights the terrible events experienced by Filipino comfort women.
    Evelina’s language and reflections alongside the testimonies from the Lolas worked beyond the written experience into the physical present. When the Lolas are telling her their stories, her description of them is strong and visceral. From the very beginning of the book, she writes of the very way these stories are told, “Her voice begins down at the bottom of her feet and pushes up like a volcano, erupting, her words spattering the air.” These descriptions and characterizations before the summaries of the Lolas allowed for more connection to the content. Furthermore, Evelina allows us to see parts of herself, too. From 167, she writes of how she is dealing with her own experiences with love compared to Lola Josefa. This section particularly stuck out to me because of how it contrasts with the violence in the other parts of her story – and how she weaves in Binababoy kami – They treated us like pigs. This seemingly simple conversation about love between two different generations and people with vastly different experiences is a moment of connection. Evelina ends this section with a chapter reflecting on her time in Macabebe visiting her uncle and the graves of her grandparents. It is this moment of her searching for her identity through her family that directly speaks back to how she connected with Lola Josefa, who’s family Evelina has never seen. Her craft of placement, whether it be the stories after one another or where she shows herself, seems most detailed. Overall, I found Evelina’s use of formatting and imagery against canid storytelling most powerful in context to how she presents these narratives, of the collective comfort women, of specific Lolas, and of herself as a Filipino woman.

    • As others have pointed out, there is a large emphasis on place. How is she using the Lolas’ House as a central space for the rest of the text?
    • The last essay focuses on the death of an author focusing on survivors of the Nanking Massacre, similar to what Evelina is doing. What does it mean to have this chapter the last in the book?

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    1. The main photo that resonated with me was Lola Piedad, Evelina, Lola Dolor, and Lola Josefa at the “comfort women” memorial on page #147, which read: “IN MEMORY OF THE VICTIMS OF MILITARY SEXUAL SLAVERY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR…..”. Visual images of any book/storylines (especially historic events) adds dimension and depth to one’s literature.

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  5. Two things stood out to me most prominently while reading Lolas’ House. The first is, as others have already mentioned, how rooted in place this book was, and the second is the intentional use and explanations (or lack thereof) of the Filipino language and its different dialects.

    For the sake of having the one of these two things that others haven’t already talked about read, I’m going to start with the use of original language and the inclusion or non-inclusion of an explanation.

    Galang’s relationship with Tagalog and the various dialects the Lolas speak is established early on. In “Welcome to Lolas’ House,” Galang tells us, “The text that follows is in English, but it is seasoned with words handed down to me by The Lolas. Some cannot be translated. What I can convey is the emotional charge the carry” (11). The lyricism used to describe Lola Christita speaking Visayan is an excellent example of this. In just a few sentences, Galang conveys the emotion behind Lola Christita’s words without ever telling us what she actually said, “Here, she slips into Visayan, leaving the Tagalog there in the grass. Here the words shatter the calm. She does not stop. Indecipherable and blue, her syllables fall like seeds, sinking deep into the earth” (89).

    I was amazed by the way Galang used another language, one that it is very likely her reader has never heard before, so masterfully throughout this book. It was shocking to me, after sitting down to think about what I had just read, that keeping phrases and whole sentences in another language didn’t cause me to stumble throughout my reading. I think this is because Galang knew when to explain and when to let it be. For example, at the bottom of page 92, she uses the Filipino words “Okay suksok? Patay ka!” and then immediately goes into an explanation of what they mean, “Just like it sounds. Suksok. The interminable sound of rape. Of sex without consent. Okay to have sex with you? And then the pause, the space between the command where her imagined response would fall. And then an snwer to her silence—(if not) patay ka. Or you’re dead.” Other times, especially with words and phrases that bear less emotional baggage, she just lets them be where they are, lets the reader determine their meaning through context clues.

    While I admit I looked up some of these other words out of sheer curiosity, I never felt like I had to do so for fear of not understanding what I was reading. I do think that I easily could’ve fallen down that hole of not understanding, though, had Galang not intentionally included an explanation the essence (I use the word essence because I feel that she was explaining far more than just the literal meaning of the words) of some of the essential phrases the Lolas use throughout their stories.

    What really stood out to me about the use of these phrases was that Galang thought they were so important that she made them the section titles for the book; these phrases were so powerful that she organized the entire book based on them. After each of the sections’ title pages is a single page dedicated just to a translation of the essence of the phrase. Galang’s use of metaphor in each of these pages is absolutely amazing. One I found particularly impactful and impressive was that of “Turtle! Turtle!” where she said, “’Kura! Kura!’ is the interruption between Now and Then. Now you are a carefree girl. You say prayers. You eat sweets. You have a family who loves you and calls you fat. Then you are Tira ng Hapones. Japanese Leftovers. Damaged. Swollen. Raped. You can never go back to Now after Then” (67). Another important thing I would like to note about this quote is the use of the phrase “Tira ng Hapones,” which is followed by its literal translation, “Japanese Leftovers.” This phrase, though translated here, appears as a section title with its own essence translation later on in the book but is used without translation throughout the rest of the text because the reader has already been made aware of the literal meaning, an excellent example of how intentionally Galang planned the incorporation of this language.

    **I’m over my word count already, but here’s what I wrote about place before realizing I was going to write way too much either way.

    Galang establishes a sense of place immediately in the first section of the book, “Welcome to Lolas’ House,” by describing the fifteen-passenger van and all that can be seen from its windows. Within the first paragraph, we are introduced to Galang, the group of dalagas with her, and the Philippines itself, and then she continues to delve deeper into place while slowly revealing the reason she is there and the reason that we are reading this book: the history, the truth of the Lolas. I felt that it was important to lay this foundation for the reader before jumping right into talking about the tough stuff, the abuses.
    By being connected to the place, I think the reader is able to materialize the jarring and surreal stories of the Lolas in the real world more easily. In order to truly understand what it was like for Galang and the Lolas to return to these cities, homes, schools, etc., we must also be able to interact with place as much as is possible for an outsider, and Galang achieves this masterfully through the inclusion of photographs and through her use of detail and imagery. For example, when she describes her visit home with Lola Christita, she says, “We are in the countryside now, and there is nothing but beautiful green around us broken up with the occasional stalk of a tall, skinny palm tree. It is the way I imagine Paradise…Behind Lola Christita is the black skeleton of a nipa hut, burnt by the sun” (88). After incorporating some of Lola Christita’s testimony, Galang returns to the hut, “[Lola Christita] turns to look at the empty hut, at the hollow bamboo fence and the thick thatched roof,” (89) before using some beautiful, lyrical language to describe Lola Christita speaking in her dialect, Visayan. Following this, is a photograph of Galang and Lola Christita in front of the hut, bringing the imagery full circle by allowing us to see just how accurately she had portrayed the place through words.

    **Here are some other craft-related things that I won’t go into too much detail about right now.
    • The balance of the interwoven stories within this book: the stories of the Lolas experiences and comfort women; the stories of the Lolas as they are now, fighting for the apology the deserve; the story of Evelina Galang as a friend and an advocate for the Lolas; and the story of Galang’s search for her own identity and reconciliation with this part of her history/heritage.
    • The use of photographs, maps, charts, and graphs to further explain and expose the story.
    • The changes in pronoun use, particularly the use of “you” between sections of the Lolas’ testimonies, like in Lola Urduja Samonte’s testimony.
    • The inclusion of Galang’s own processing (used similarly to reflection in memoir) of the Lolas’ stories. Ex: “You tell me you had three husbands, that you enjoyed their bodies, but there was no love. Really, Lola? …‘Of course man and woman must lie side by side, must have sex, but there was no feeling like love.’ How much of this has to do with what happened to you back there in the garrisons of New Washington? Perhaps your body was so damaged there was no feeling left. Maybe there was nothing left but habit. And so sex came easy for you. One husband could replace another. One friend in exchange for another. And the oe place the Japanese soldiers could not touch was your heart” (212).
    • The afterword being formatted as a letter written directly to the Lolas form Evelina, which also incorporates the use of “you” to speak directly to Lola Dolor after she passes.

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    1. Hi Kasi, I did somewhat struggle with the intentional use and explanations of the Filipino dialect in the book. Often times when reading words that are not of your own language can be frustrating when collecting one’s thoughts. Over-all I did enjoy the book but I must admit it was very different than our other assignments. This book was heavy and I truly felt for each of these women….My spirit was weighed upon.

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    2. Excellent, insightful commentary about her use of non-English phrases and words. Your notes about further craft issues at the end are also important and will provide a nice beginning for some discussions about structure.

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  6. Renee’ Drummond-Brown
    Lolas’ House By: M. Evelina Galang
    9-26-2018

    Lolas’ House by author M. Evlina Galang was extremely different than our other readings for this class. It was an adjustment and shift of writing style because of the book taking on the historical account of 16 different perspectives of Filipino comfort women in which crimes occurred during war rather than one story focus. For me, it was extremely hard to view this as one book rather than sixteen diverse stories. The authors’ collection of personal testimonies/interviews from these “comfort women” allowed their voices to resound into the spirit of the reader. The literatures in this book also strengthened the word comfort and “just” what that word truly meant in time of war by addressing these horrific crimes.
    The cover was beautifully done. The black cover backdrop was daringly bold. The choice of black was anything but absent because of these women allowing their faces to be showcased and for their brave images bringing such light to this dim situation. Most of their faces on the books’ cover were stern, some smiled but none to my recollection had a look of detestation. The cover also gave us a collage snippet of bruised women who were brave enough to allow themselves to forever be attached to a corrupt history. As a visual learner I could appreciate that and I immediately attached to every-one of those weighted faces. I felt the color purple on the cover added a distinct touch of royalty to their merit and valor as it related to each of them “personally.” The table of contents (listing their names) put a face to the injustices done and spoke volume to the victim’s individual accounts.
    By showcasing each victim’s photo, DOB, their place of origin, where and when their abduction occurred allowed the reader to absorb the books’ foundation and richly added depth to the interior manuscript. And while the victims accounts are being recorded the author’s intensely keep you in present tense. Two sentences (pg. 17) within the book that struck a chord with me are “I am seated and watch everything unfold. I carry with me the posture of the teacher.” These statements in particular rang a bell from my own ancestors who taught me that the art of being a great learner is to be a good listener. The author also did a fantastic job in accurately gathering the victims accounts by focusing the attention on listening, empathizing and being impartial when writing their personal stories. The lolas and Galang come across very strong in first person and in placement of the space from where the story is being told. The attention to details were profound as it related to the victim’s insight. Here are a few examples that stood out for me: Virginia Villarma accounts-Five Japanese soldiers caught her. She struggled. They held her hands. Pulled her hair. Jabbed her back with bayonets and hauled her onto the jeep like a pig bound for market. (p.31). She further stated that the soldiers made her wash their clothes and clean their sleeping quarters. (P.32). Cristita Alcober accounts: Once her and her brother were separated she never saw him again. The soldiers took her to a comfort station tossed her into “the jail” with women and girls she didn’t know. (p.90). Atanacia Cortez accounts: For seven months the Japanese kept her in a room above a dungeon with Filipinos and American prisoners, while raping her daily and leaving her in the same soiled clothing. (p.188)
    Galang was brilliant in weaving images throughout the book that captured the reader’s attention causing one to cogitate in a philosophical manner. The book was well researched but I must admit it was extremely weighty because of the endured assaults, suffering, depression, tortures and rape on these victims.
    In the book when Lola Rosa came forth lightening her load by admitting to several Japanese men raping her I could personally feel the victim’s pain through the authors’ craft of penmanship. I personally loved these lines: “Sometimes, when she is at Lolas’ House and the women are dancing or laughing, when the women are loading onto a jeepney on their way to a rally at the Japanese embassy, it is as if there is a slow leak at the bottom of the ocean and all the pain is draining from her”…(p.94). This statement is so profound to me as a woman because when I reflect on these women and their horrific stories I see the resilience in me.

    Questions:
    I have no questions but rather a comment. I am hurt beyond measure, moved and speechless at what it must have been like for these restricted victims to have been used as mere female domesticated servants for hard core labor.

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    1. Renee, You do a good job of articulating why these stories resonated for you. Try to think of some questions you can ask Evelina on Thursday. I can imagine one such question, given your own personal response, might be to ask how she managed to separate herself from these stories enough to write them, or if it was the fact that the stories entered her body that allowed her to complete this project. That balance between engagement and objectivity that is necessary for a writer.

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      1. Thank you Dr. St.Germain for giving me something to think about in terms of questions that I could ask of her. See you later, Renee’.

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  7. Early on in Lola’s House, M. Evelina Galang breaks from the stories of the Lolas and talks about her own family. In “House on Bituan” she talks about her own lola, Lola Clara Anca Lopez-Tan, and how she is “like a phantom in [her] memories” (76). She tells the reader that her lola was already a widow with seven children during World War II, and discloses that her mother and aunt were 12 and 17 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. This detail gives me pause, I read quickly through several pages waiting for the other shoe to drop. I discover that this family history is only a device meant to draw connection between the Lolas, Galang, and the reader.

    Throughout the reading I came to appreciate these interludes, the moments when Galang retreats into her own mind, her own family. The book is divided into four sections with the sixteen lolas divided across the four, but there is no sense of clear demarcation. Each section instead builds on the previous. I felt Galang’s rhythm after reading “Through the Mercy of God.” There was an introduction, followed by testimony, followed by Galang’s work and family. Visuals of the Lolas are scattered between their testimony. The testimony of the Lolas in the earlier sections are short, and not heavily detailed in terms of their experiences. (This is not a criticism, only an observation on the choices Galang made when organizing the Lolas’ testimony.)

    I think I expected a more journalistic approach to the Lolas and their stories. I am still conflicted on how effective I found it for Galang to intersperse her own experience in with theirs. I understand why she chooses to share about her own life and family with the reader. The twenty years she spends documenting the Lolas and their stories clearly had a profound effect on Galang, and Lola’s House is clearly not a purely journalistic work.

    However, sometimes I felt like Galang put too much emphasis on herself. Near the end of the book, a peer asks if Galang has heard the latest from Japanese Prime Minister Abe. “Don’t get me started…I have a lot of work to do,” she replies (214). The moment is clear frustration, she is trying to do right by the Lolas and shares their stories, but she is also trying to finish the book because she has to publish to maintain her academic position. This is a moment of two world’s colliding, but my initial reaction to the statement was a feeling that if the Prime Minister could see Galang’s work, he would be swayed.

    While conflicted, I still found Galang’s work to be powerful, and as stated above, appreciated the momentary respites from the violence of the Lola’s testimony. Galang’s letter to the Japanese Prime Minister is especially moving as it shows her continuing to champion the cause of women who are no longer able to speak for themselves. The letter makes me think of the slogan, “The Personal is Political,” though I suppose, isn’t it always?

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    1. I couldn’t agree with you more because I immediately drew a connection as the reader to the author in these historical accounts. I also found similarities in my own culture through these horrific stories. I loved your post. Thank you for sharing. Renee’.

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    2. I’m glad you brought up your conflict regarding the inclusion of her personal stories and the fact that this is not pure journalism. It is a criticism at least one reviewer shares, and I look forward to our discussion about it.

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  8. Give or Take

    In Lolas’ House, M. Evelina Galang utilizes several craft elements and devices in an ambitious attempt to deliver on a promise that she made to the Lolas back in 1999. Her attempts did not make the intended impact on my experience as a reader. Galang included her own personal account of the process of interviewing, researching and writing the book, as a means of introducing the concept that a writer can and will absorb trauma that is relayed second-hand. However, this was jarring, as it often took me from being fully engrossed in the Lolas’ voice and their harrowing experience to being bothered by the unnecessary behind-the-scenes details of executing a journalistic endeavor. In many ways, I struggled to stay invested in the author’s goals and questioned Galang’s motives throughout.

    In “Welcome to Lolas’ House,” the historical context and political background provided was very helpful in setting up the interviews to follow. In this section, Galang’s experience is important. Her point-of-view, which is successfully delivered, reminds us that these women are not stereotypical victims. These are grandmothers. In this section, Galang achieves her goal of humanizing these women. For example, Galang writes: “Some of them scolded me for making them wait. They wanted to know if I had eaten.” Here we see an endearing moment that helps to characterize the women who’s brutal accounts we are about to read.

    However, when the narrative shifts to Galang’s experience later in the book, I found myself losing interest quickly and scanning the pages for the next transcript. In “Dalaga Project,” I’m bored to tears with what one of my writing workshop instructors used to call Travel Plans. “I place myself across from her, next to the camcorder locked down on the tripod. Ana Fe scoots her way behind me and fits headphones squarely onto her skull. She frames Lola in the shot.” This level of detail seems to have no real purpose, whereas a few sentences later we zero in on a very intimate gesture that speaks volumes: “She places a hand on my knee as she describes the day she was abducted.”

    These inconsistencies counter the overall point, which is to give these women a platform to for their stories. In a way, Galang is giving them a voice, but also taking valuable real estate from these women, by dedicating space to extraneous details. This one craft element stood out to me as mostly ineffective.

    In terms of questions I have, I would love to know what others think about Galang’s use of second-person.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sounds like you and Liz had similar responses and I look forward to what I hope is a vibrant discussion. Evelina has said that one of the reasons she included the personal material about herself, the research and her family is because she felt it would be too dark and traumatizing for a reader to go through rape after rape after rape (not to mention the vicious and almost sadistic skewering of family members) without some kind of break. We can disagree with her about that and/or suggest other ways she might have provided that break. Discuss!

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