The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven
The Mango Bride is the first novel by Filipina-American author Marivi Soliven. Set in Manila and San Francisco, it is the story of how the secrets kept by an older generation of Manila aristocrats and their servants come to light. Soliven’s plot unfolds through flashbacks and foreshadowing, adding an element of surprise and enjoyable suspense to this already juicy tale of inter-generational drama.
Beverly is the “mango bride” of the title. This epithet is derived from the tag line “Mango Brides Make the Best Wives”, used by Filipina Sweetheart, the agency that introduced Beverly to her American husband, Josiah Stein. It takes on an ominous irony, as Beverly’s marriage to Josiah, a violent drunk who withholds her green card, is anything but sweet. Even more frightening is that they have a young daughter, Claire, who bears frequent witness to her father’s abusive behavior.
The book opens with a Prologue, in which Señora Concha Guerrero, matriarch of a wealthy Manila family, is stabbed by Marcela Obejas, her longtime maid.
Marcela was barely thinking when she took a knife from the plate of mangoes and stabbed Senora Concha in the chest.
Marcela’s motive is unclear until very close to the end of the book, when many plot threads are tied together in an operatic (or soap-operatic) climax.
Marcela, a long time Guerrero family employee, is so loved and trusted that Amparo, Señora Concha's daughter, and her brothers, call her“Nanay”, or Mommy in Tagalog. And Señora Concha is anything but a victim. She is more like a venomous spider who keeps the other characters to varying degrees tangled in her web. Her fatal flaw—suppression of inconvenient truths in the name of “family honor”—is foreshadowed in a conversation between her two sons, Javier and his brother Miguel, when Miguel, conveniently a plastic surgeon, is seeing to his mother's wound.
“I should be able to suture the lacerations here.”
“Perfect. Mamá is more worried about causing a scandal than scarring her cleavage. She doesn’t want the neighbors to hear about it.”
Beyond Manila, a parallel storyline develops in San Francisco, where Amparo, now grown, and Beverly, Marcela’s niece and the mail-order bride, both live. Marcela has kept Beverly’s existence a secret from Amparo. The unfortunate Beverly lost her mother Clara, Marcela’s sister, when she was fifteen, and grew up not knowing her father’s identity.
Amparo, who lives with her gentle, yoga-loving boyfriend, Seamus and works as a Tagalog interpreter, first becomes aware of Beverly when she and Seamus notice Josiah roughing up Beverly in public.
“Aray!” Quick as the word escaped, the woman looked around, fearing someone had heard her cry, and for an eternal second, she locked eyes with Amparo. Recognition passed between them, each one wondering how the other Filipina had come to be there, so many miles from home.
Through a further coincidence involving her job as an interpreter, Amparo solves the mystery of Beverly’s past. And as the truth comes to light in the book’s dramatic final chapters, we learn the cause of Marcela’s anger. The somewhat contrived plot twists require suspension of disbelief, but the novel is a light, enjoyable read that deals—from a Filipino perspective—with a social issue that is one of the more unfortunate aspects of relationships between Asia and the West.