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by R. Zamora Linmark

Coffee House Press | 2011 | 355 pages | $15.95

Reviewed by Michael Carey

author r zamor linmark

Before reading Linmark’s Leche, I had limited experience with Filipinos and even less knowledge of their history and culture. Linmark’s writing captures both and explores them with insight and humor while working through the story of the main character, Vince’s, search for home.

Vince is a gay Filipino American who moved to Hawaii from San Vicente in the Philippines at the age of ten to be with his parents. They had left him and his two siblings to be raised by their grandfather. His parents abandoned him. Years later, he is abandoned once again when his grandfather sends him back to his parents, where he witnesses their struggling marriage and eventual divorce. Vince has lost his sense of home. Thirteen years after moving to Hawaii and after several failed relationships, Vince is finally ready to find the answers to the questions that plague his mind.

Vince is first runner-up in a pageant and wins a trip to Manila to escort the queen of a festival. Linmark paints the city’s chaos, heat, passion, and life through Vince’s experience there. I found Vince’s complaining overwhelming at times and funny at others, but as I learned more about Vince, his character became real and life-like. Dealing with his own personal issues Vince looks for love and lust, stands up to his national identity, and is shaken by dreams (the bangungut is believed to kill Filipinos in their sleep).

Leche is a book about contradiction:  the title, the country it takes place in, and the quest Vince finds himself on without even realizing it. The word leche in Spanish means “milk,” while in the Philippines, it is a curse word, “shit”. Leche both provides nourishment and is filth. Throughout the book, Linmark strategically places lists of tourist tips. They are humorous and interesting, and when the story didn’t quite peak my interest, I would look ahead to see how much further until I reached another set of tourist tips. Having said that, the last two of the book read:

   The culture is open and growing and continuing to change as the country and its people survive, and in this it breaks from the constraints of stereotypes. As for Vince, his journey through Manila and his memories grow more personal and deep through the novel. We finally see what Vince struggles with and hope that he has found his answer, as it wasn’t stated explicitly (for me) in the end. It wasn’t until I reread the introductory quotes that I found some form of understanding. “Resist – a plot is brought home – The tour,” is from Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. And “But to draw the lessons of the good that came my way, I will describe the other things I saw,” from Dante’s Inferno. Linmark chose these quotes to bring the reader’s attention to the theme that it is the lessons learned along the journey that show us home.

Linmark has created an exceptional journey of growth and discovery. I had my own reservations at times while reading Leche, but I found the arc to be rewarding in the end. I now question whether I would like to visit the Philippines based on Linmark’s colorful descriptions of Manila, but the wealth of history and culture he presents along with Vince’s story make me feel like I was already there.

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