A young Filipino American’s riotous adventures through the sprawling, tragicomic landscape of modern-day Manila.
After thirteen years of living in the U.S., Vince returns to his birthplace, the Philippines. As Vince ventures into the heat and chaos of the city, he encounters a motley cast of characters, including a renegade nun, a political film director, arrogant hustlers, and the country’s spotlight-driven First Daughter. Haunted by his childhood memories and a troubled family history, Vince unravels the turmoil, beauty, and despair of a life caught between a fractured past and a precarious future.
Witty and mesmerizing, this novel explores the complex colonial and cultural history of the Philippines and the paradoxes inherent in the search for both personal and national identities.
Leche includes 31 postcard images.
Click here to read Linmark’s interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
New York Magazine’s Best of 2011
Publishers Weekly’s Best Novels of 2011
“As quirky and funny as its oddball characters, Linmark’s latest is a unique, colorful portrait of cross-cultural experience and a view into the complexities of modern-day Philippines through the prism of an ex-pat’s self-discovery and quasi-homecoming.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[A]s cheeky a novel as you’ll encounter. . . . the book’s nonstop energy and nonstop attitude are addictive. And in Vince you won’t find a less predictable tour guide. A lively satiric return to early ‘90s Manila, seen from both sides of the Filipino American divide.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Linmark delivers a harrowing tale of love, family, and cultural bewilderment, a sardonically funny and vibrant novel about one man’s journey to his past. . . . Linmark’s novel reads like a bittersweet love letter to a vast and perplexing nation. This is a story of heritage, sexuality, and self-discovery that is as riveting as its locale is complex.”—Booklist
“At times uproariously funny, . . . Linmark weaves cultural and historical research into his story and employs a nonlinear structure to the narrative, including jumps in time, lists of Philippines “travel tips,” and postcards to and from Hawaii. . . . Above all, Linmark’s writing is literary: heightened, emotional and beautifully crafted. Linmark began as a poet, and pays close attention to rhythm, economy and word choice, even in such a rollicking, gutsy story. It is a story that many people can relate to, but one that can only be told by a writer of his caliber.”—Honolulu Star Advertiser
“This time around, Linmark uses his trademark po-mo fragmentation for surface texture; it compromises the novel’s picaresque forward motion not a whit. This is a language—and a Manila —that should be familiar to readers of the Asian American canon, and Leche feels like the long-awaited completion of something we didn’t know was incomplete.”—Hyphen
“Linmark offers both a meditation on what it means to be Filipino and an exuberant, affectionate, irreverent love letter to the city of Manila from one of its own. . . . Linmark, who like Vince has lived in both Manila and Hawaii, develops a lively and engaging narrative voice as he skillfully juxtaposes these two very different cultures. . . . This is a jaunty, kaleidoscopic novel that amusingly chronicles the many challenges Vince faces moving between cultures. Recommended for readers of lighthearted literary fiction.”—Library Journal
“Linmark’s descriptions of Metro Manila from the point of view of a bewildered Pil-Am are absolutely spot-on. . . Leche is a funny and poignant look at the Philippines through the eyes of a young Pil-Am. You, like Vince, will come to realize that, despite all the crazy trappings, there is something special about being Pilipino. And like Vince you can learn to embrace all of the wonder, complexity, humor, and heartbreak that come with it.”—Northwest Asian Weekly
“Leche is a combustible comedy, a nightmare, a fever dream that with humor and horror somehow captures the fractured Philippine identity. Eye opening, hilarious, and relentlessly seductive, Linmark’s newest novel holds the reader until the very last page.”—Sabina Murray
“R. Zamora Linmark writes with the incandescent irreverence of a papal heretic, with the poetic and chaotic sense that only the Philippines can bestow, with the language of a sainted seer all held together with an elegant craft and a graceful style. Leche is a beautiful book.”—Chris Abani
“There’s no reason why R. Zamora Linmark shouldn’t shoot for the Great Philippine Novel in his ambitious and wide-ranging new book, Leche. . . . His precise observations about departure and homecoming at the beginning of the novel set the tone for the rest of the novel. Linmark’s descriptions of the maelstrom that is Manila rings wonderfully true throughout.”—The Wily Filipino (blog)
“[Leche] is a multivocal work, which again, reinforces that Filipino collectivity, as well as the noise! . . . Ultimately, this is a satisfying read precisely because there is a point where all of this crazy slowly thins out, and the ending is a resolution that is and isn’t a resolution. But for me, it is a point of much needed and even empowering clarity.”—Barbara Jane Reyes
“The story examines culture-shock, modern-day gay life and the way things were in the early ’90s, all with Linmark’s sense of funny. Only this time, the narrative is in third person. Embedded within the book is a certain playfulness. Interspersed are “Tourist Tips” for Manila, as well as postcards with photos that Vince writes to his friends back home. In short, Leche is all we’ve anticipated from Linmark.”—Honolulu Weekly
“Much like Linmark’s delightful debut novel . . . Leche manages to be at once formally inventive and compulsively readable. With its non-stop action and experimental structure—interspersing postcard correspondence, dream sequences, and, best of all, tongue-in-cheek “Tourist Tips” and entries from “Decolonization for Beginners” that cannily anticipate the book’s own potential misreading as little more than an opportunity for some cross-cultural eavesdropping—Leche educates and entertains in equal measure.”—Lambda Literary
“With language poetic, exacting, and often hilarious, R. Zamora Linmark’s novel Leche immerses the reader in the modern day Philippines with its story of an emigre’s return to the country as a young man.”—Large-Hearted Boy
“In Leche, the protagonist, Vince, returns to the Philippines after thirteen years in the United States. Once back in Manila, he wanders through a series of misadventures involving sex, politics, and the haunting memories of his childhood. Amidst the narrative are foreboding ‘tourist tips’ (“Fight leptospirosis: do not wade in flood water; it might be teeming with the bacterial disease transmitted from the urine of infected rats”) and Vince’s acerbic postcards. For fans of international fiction.”—Hey Small Press
“Linmark is always so exceptional when it comes to Asian American writing precisely because of his comic and parodic tone, which is always unrelenting, dynamic, and fun. . . . Linmark’s aesthetic approach, which includes multimedia such as postcards and inserts before each book section filled with original adages and aphorisms that will have you grinning and chuckling, will necessarily and fairly draw comparisons to Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. Readers will have no trouble finishing the novel, as Linmark’s storytelling is first-rate, with the kind of humorous pulse so absent from much contemporary ethnic writing.”—Professor Stephen Sohn, Stanford University
“A whirlwind, whistle stop tour of Manila’s high society, celebrity pop culture and seedy underbelly. . .”—Bookmunch
“Linmark has created an exceptional journey of growth and discovery. . . . [t]he wealth of history and culture he presents along with Vince’s story make me feel like I was already there [in Manila].”—New World Review
The Sea They Carried
From Bonifacio Dumpit’s
Decolonization for Beginners: A Filipino Glossary
balikbayan, noun. 1. coined by the Marcos regime in 1973 for
u.s.-based Filipinos returning to visit the motherland and
witness its vast improvements, attributed to martial law. 2.
unwitting propagator of martial law propaganda. 3. potential
savior of the Philippine economy. See also Overseas Filipino
Workers, brain drain.
By the time Vince arrives at the Philippine Airlines departures terminal,
it is already bustling with restless souls who, with their balikbayan boxes,
have transformed the terminal into a warehouse, as if they’re returning
to the motherland on a cargo ship rather than Asia’s first airline carrier.
Comedians use these durable cardboard boxes as materials for their
Filipino-flavored jokes. “How is the balikbayan box like American
Express to Filipinos? Because they never leave home without it.”
Everywhere Vince turns are boxes, boxes, and more boxes. Boxes
secured by electrical tape and ropes. Boxes with drawstring covers made
from canvas or tarp. Boxes lined up like a fortified wall behind check-in
counters or convoying on squeaky conveyor belts of x-ray machines.
Boxes blocking the Mabuhay Express lane for first- and business-class
passengers. Boxes stacked up on carts right beside coach passengers
standing in queues that are straight only at their starting points before
branching out to form more—or converge with other—lines, bottlenecking
as they near the ticket counter.
Boxes that ought to be the Philippines’ exhibit at the next World’s
Fair, Vince tells himself, as he navigates his cartload of Louis Vuitton
bags in and out of the maze. An exhibit that should take place none
other than here, at the Honolulu International Airport, he laughs, as he
imagines the entire terminal buried in the Filipinos’ most popular—and
preferred—piece of luggage.
With a balikbayan box, Filipinos can pack cans of Hormel corned
beef, Libby’s Vienna sausage, Folgers, and SPAM; perfume samples; new
or hand-me-down designer jeans; travel-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner,
and body lotion gleaned from Las Vegas hotels; and appliances
marked with first-world labels that, as anyone who’s been to the
Philippines knows, can easily be purchased at Duty Free right outside
the airport, or from any of the crypt-like malls that are so gargantuan
they’re a metropolis unto themselves.
Filipinos will even throw themselves into these boxes, as was the case
of an overseas contract worker in Dubai. The man, an engineer, was so
homesick that, unable to afford the ticket—most of his earnings went to
cover his living expenses and the rest to his wife and children—he talked
his roommate, who was home bound for the holidays, into checking him
in. He paid for the excess baggage fee, which still came out cheaper than
a round-trip airfare. En route to Manila, he died from hypothermia.
Vince, who had heard the story from his older sister Jing, didn’t buy
it. There were too many loopholes, too many unanswered questions,
like wouldn’t an x-ray machine in the Middle East detect a Filipino man
curled up inside a box? He simply dismissed it as a “turban legend.”
“You’re missing the point, brother,” Jing said. “It’s not the mechanics
that matter. It’s about drama. The extremes a Filipino will go to just
to be back home for Christmas with his family.”