Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes

Cinelle Barnes tells the captivating story of her life growing up in the 80s and 90s Philippines in a palacial mansion with her family. Her father is a “self-made man” who acquired his money by plying Filipino workers to Middle Eastern countries. He completed the business of the paperwork, and her mother vetted them for health assurances. The money was rolling in and the family was able to buy a grand 10-bedroom house outfitted with all the help needed for its upkeep. This scheme worked until the start of The Gulf War, and the connections to the itinerant workers was cutoff. Barnes’s father feels tremendous guilt for putting the men in that position, but her mother is angry that her upper-class lifestyle may be in jeopardy.

I absolutely loved this book. The writer’s voice is something special. There’s an attention to detail and a nuanced view of every situation that is at once a child’s and an older person’s reflection. It is told chronologically, and each section of the book is really an anecdote from a different point in the author’s life. In the midst of so many troubling times, a new stepfather who has turned the mansion into a cockfighting ring, a storm that floods the whole city, and constant neglect from her mother, Barnes finds little things to distract herself from the pain. Like the time she hunts stray cats with a BB gun in her house, or when she “teaches” the daughter of one of the maids to swim by pushing her into the flooded downstairs.

Told with humor and an impressive honesty and beauty, this is a memoir not to be missed.

Highly Recommended.

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