Of Love And Other Lemons is a collection that plays with the form of the personal essay, turning it on its head, insisting on the we versus the i, the distant versus the familiar, even as it can only be about the persona/l. As such it is honest but impersonal, particularly of one but speaking of (if not for) the other, creative non-fiction premised on what remains fictional for women on this side of the third world. Here are, and ultimately, essays about being raised a girl in Manila, feminist in the academe, woman struggling with/in the silences and noise of nation everyday.
To say that outrage is at the heart of Katrina Stuart Santiago's book is to do scant justice to it. Certainly, these essays seethe. Sex and social class and nation and how the bodies and lives of women continue to be the site of oppression where these intersect; the heroism and hurts handed down from our mothers and grandmothers; the speech as well as the silence that make us "sisters" complicit; and the pursuit of love, both of one's self and of another, and the "terrible resilience of the heart" - all these Santiago tirelessly wrestles with in Of Love and Other Lemons. A defiant work, it sounds the call for courage and coherence (and also curiosity) in women's lives, burdened often as these lives are with persistent notions of womanhood that are not only outdated but soul crushing. The book aches for a new radicalism, all the while vigorously refusing the image of a new modern Pinay that is the mask of consumerism, and suspicious of the consolations of a sisterhood that is all-too-often a fiction. And while the author is not afraid to get in your face - she is not out to win our love or to win points (for which the reader is grateful) - the book nevertheless presents an honest, moving portrait of a young woman who cannot but train her critical eye on the world even as her life splinters around her and who realizes, not without cost, that "the most personal things that informed our real lives, kawomenan could not respond [to]." Where the writer breaks into a lyrical mode, the reader becomes privy to the intimate and the hidden that the persona shares with a beloved. No mere intermissions, these privacies serve as yet another act of resistance when held in counterpoint to the weight of the public and political that inform her life, small acts but no less significant. By turns brave, bewildered, unsparing, and vulnerable, the essays strive to reinvigorate kawomenan by accommodating the experiences and aspirations of a new generation of Filipinas. Santiago asks importantly, "So what is it that happens to the grand ideologies we hold close to our hearts when real life sets in?" This book is her unflinching answer.
- Mabi David
This is a book that one can imagine reading while on a train, or at the airport waiting for a flight. It is, as the author explains, essays written in medias res -- a book of contradictions that speaks of both disappointment and hope, that questions yet affirms, that de-familiarizes what we think of as the "everyday."
In this well-written, engaging, thought-provoking collection of essays, Ina interrogates what has been said and written on love, desire, language, feminism, power, life.
On a more personal note, her essays reminded me of what it was like to be in one's 30s, perhaps the most difficult stage in a woman's life. Women in their 30s are neither "starting out" (being in one's 20s) nor in a more "stable" place (one's 40s) when they have come to terms with life choices. For me, this is a book that one should read after devouring feminist theory and feminist literature, so that one can start again with the question of words, or so that one can quietly nod in agreement as to why "sisterhood" is not automatic.
It takes courage and honesty to write both the personal and the political, and a gifted way with words to keep the reader reading.
- Joi Barrios
University of California Berkeley, April 2012
In twenty-first century Philippines, where divorce and reproductive health still fall under the category of impossible dreams, Katrina Stuart Santiago directly addresses the privileged (shorthand for middle class and educated) Pinay and states the obvious yet also obscure fact: "whatever liberation you feel is a reprieve at best." The essays in Of Love and Other Lemons are accounts of this reprieve - the joys of inhabiting it, the perils of indulging in it, the imperative to interrogate it - told by a persona who knows all too well the luxury and fantasy of choice. Santiago's stories are always personal but never just so, and this she sustains with such conviction that she often dares to say we in place of I, transforming the individual account to collective experience. Polemical and astute, stubborn and heartfelt, this book speaks to the Pinay, speaks for the Pinay, and expects nothing less than for the Pinay to speak up.
- Conchitina Cruz
Ina Santiago writes about women (kawomenan, as she puts it) as though she were sent to earth for that specific task. Scholarly yet poetic - and wonderfully articulate - this book, as its subject has been famous for doing, unashamedly multitasks: It expands your mind and pumps up your heart while it clogs your throat and wrings out a tear from your eye. I kept thinking, Where have you been all this time? Why only show up now? And why is this your first book? "More than taking my time in writing," she says in her introduction, in what I imagine is her anticipated response to my complaint, "I've taken my time at living." That's great, Ina. But do hurry up with the next book. Because I can't wait to be bowled over again.
- Tweet Sering