In My Mother's House by Joni Cham

Description from Goodreads

An honest and insightful exploration of the complex, sometimes tortured, relationship between an immigrant Chinese mother and her Philippine-born daughter.

In My Mother's House guides us across a minefield of personal, familial, and cross-cultural trauma to that place made safer by the finality of death and the possibility of forgiveness and re-birth.

In My Mother's House begins with the return of Nina, the Philippine born daughter to the house of her childhood, in order to care for her ailing Chinese mother. And both mother and house, she has been running away from, for the trauma they have brought her. With the former being the cause, and the latter being the witness. And now being back in that house with her mother has opened up a Pandora's Box inside of Nina, and released an onslaught of feelings. Feelings of unworthiness, of ugliness, of being unwanted, of shame, and guilt, and longing, memories of a tragedy and of deaths, and a long trail of grief. And Nina, throughout this book, continues to fight these memories and feelings. It is a constant unearthing and shoving back of these memories and feelings as the narrative moves from her past to her present, all revolving around her family and central of which is her long standing struggle with her formidable mother. And now the odds have turned. She is now the adult, while her mother due to sickness becomes dependent on her for everyday living. Still, things are as complicated as ever between the two, and perhaps even more so.   

At one point, I felt my heart growing heavy and my chest feeling tight because it is unflinchingly told, brutal even. I could feel the hate. It's raw and sometimes bordering on rage. There is always pain and grief and resentment under the sentences, which continues  wee into the story. And it is just striking how the author uses the sense of smell to make vivid the images or to make real the emotions that she wishes to covey. 

But, there are also bright lights in all of the sadness, which are a welcome respite from the book's pathos. They came in the form of Nina's sweet memories of Yaya Pasing (the nanny), and Shorty (the little brother), and also the love she shared with Carlo, her boyfriend. 

In Mother's House is a book that I would probably remember for a long time. True, the mood that it left me with was sad, and then angry, and then sad some more. But that is only a testament to how compelling the writing is. I never really realized it would affect me the way it did. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, it may be, perhaps, because of the loose bits, or trivial bits really, that I recognize to have been part of my life. Memories of incense sticks and funerals, of my old yaya of 20 years, of  my siblings and the games we used to play, of foreign scratches on paper and foreign words on tongues. But then that is just as far as it goes because my mother is the most loving and the kindest parent I could ever hope for. And that is what I did as a sort of catharsis, really. To think myself so very lucky to have the mother that I have and the childhood memories that I have. Plus, the ending helped because it is the best that I could have ever hoped for, for Nina. There was this sense of calmness and tranquility which I was glad for. If it went otherwise, I might just have pulled my hair out, or melted in a puddle of despair.   

I can't help but think about the influence, parents wield on their children. It is a formidable thing. This story may not have been an easy read but it was a very satisfying one nonetheless. It is brilliant piece of Philippine Literature which I truly hope will be read by many. 

Thanks You to Chris of Ficsation for introducing me to this book and giving an autographed copy as a giveaway in the process! Check-out her review HERE

Winner of the Special Jury Prize in the Novel Category (Premio Jose) at the Prenio Tomas: The UST Quadricentennial Literary Prize.

Award Winning Books Reading Challenge Entry No. 15


  1. Hi Tin!

    This is an interesting book. I love stories about mothers. Will take note of this the next time I visit the bookstore. :)

    1. Hey Lynai! How are mommy duties coming along? And you still getting on with ACOK? :D

      The mother-daughter relationship portrayed here is a troubled one so it's a heavy read but it is definitely powerful and compelling, and worth the read. I am not sure if this can be found in bookstores aside from Central Books which both has an online bookstore and retail outlets. :)

  2. I am coping, Tin. Hehe. I have grown accustomed to intermittent sleep during the night, I'm still trying to stomach changing diapers, haha! Thanks for asking. :)

    ACOK is getting interesting everyday. And I feel some "kilig" between Arya and Gendry, hihi. I hope I'll be able to finish before the month ends so that I can start on ASOS already. :)

    1. Haha! My sister has two kids, and boy, do I remember those diapers. :)

      Oh, I am an avid shipper of Arya and Gendry! So cute, those two. Hehe. I got into about three chapters of ASOS already, but I put it on hold for awhile, to make way for the local lit I had lined up, as my required reads for the month. Perhaps by the time you're about to start, I'd be too. We can compare notes over at goodreads. Or perhaps there will be another buddy read. :D

  3. I will definitely grab a copy of this as soon as I get the chance! :)

    1. You definitely should! I loved it. (It is also one of the finalist in the 32nd National Book Awards :D) Copies can be found in Central Books. :)


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