The Ways We Choose to Live, with Magda Szabó (A Book Review)

Book Reviews, Fiction

Assuming that someone could vouch for us, and assure her that neither of us were likely to brawl or get drunk, we might perhaps discuss the matter again. I stood there dumbfounded. This was the first time anyone had required references from us. “I don’t wash just anyone’s dirty linen,” she said.

I grew up with Ate Marie, our nanny and household help. My mom had a full-time job with three little girls to take care of. Her mother-in-law, my paternal grandma passed away when I was about 6 or 7 years old, and my maternal grandma, her mother, was abroad, working in the U.S. She needed all the help she could get. When I was about ten, my father found out he was adopted and that his real mother was in London working as a nanny.

A few years ago, I was involved in a campaign for domestic worker’s bill of rights. The campaign involved educational discussions, continuous social media outreach and visits to the state’s capital, Sacramento, in efforts to level up the rights of domestic workers and caregivers.

How I’ve known domestic work my whole life has been this way, from Ate Marie, our household help, my grandmother who was a nanny in London, the Filipinos who become caregivers in the U.S. and around the world, and the countless women who labor each day with their heart and hands.

And then I met Emerence.

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Fall, 1981 by Tamas Galambos

Magda Szabó The Door (Amazon | Indiebound) is the story of Emerence, a Hungarian woman who becomes employed by the narrator and her husband as their household help. The narrator is a writer, married with no child. From the moment she sought Emerence, much of her existence revolved around understanding the older lady’s existence. This was already evident upon their first meeting: she asked for references & remarked that she doesn’t just washes anyone’s dirty linen. She sought out details, asked around, even traveled back to Emerence’s hometown to get a glimpse of who she really was.

July’s Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

I can’t believe it’s the second half of the year already. Where did the first half go?! I hope you’ve been enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, or if you’ve been doing it the way I have — with your current reads.

My excitement for this month’s reading list cannot be contained, so much so that I’m on the second book already because I was that eager to get to actually reading. I’m a little behind too on my goal for this year (54 books) so I figured I could use the downtime to catch up.

The past two weeks have been really heavy on the political side, as I finished reading Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos (book review out this week) and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance. I’m still thinking about those narratives, of the lives of people like those in Bautista’s novel and OLR’s sacrifice for a cause bigger than himself. It’s easy to get lost in our routines, to see each day and each week like the others past, and then find yourself one day asking where time has gone (I mean, I just started this post with that sentiment).

Between juggling a full-time job, organizing with a grassroots women’s group in the Bay Area and reading and blogging for Libromance, some days feel like a blur.

I need constant reminders to slow down, to make my days wider and freer, to be more spontaneous. I have yet to find that balance, but these past few days have been healing. Between all the things I do, keeping up with my books & looks on the daily and carving out moments for loved ones, I have to remind myself to breathe. To take it all in, with grace and even more joy. That in spite of what’s happening around me, in spite of internal turmoils I may face, there’s alwasy a spark of joy that can be ignited.


This month’s first book is Frida Kahlo: I Paint My Reality which I finished in a day (yesterday). I still have a hangover from my trip to Mexico City, specially Coyoacan, where Frida grew up and spent most of her time. I have yet to write about my trip for the blog but it’s definitely in the works!

Right after, I started Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The only reason why I didn’t start reading Roy’s latest novel is that it still hasn’t arrived and the moment it did, I was ready. After being blown away by The God of Small Things, I tried to greet Roy’s other books with the same vigor. But it wasn’t the same. As I write this, I’ve read about 50 pages of the new novel and so far, it has been worth the wait.

Other titles that I’ll be delving into this month include Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. I’m a fan of the Berkeley native, ever since he came out with books like Food Rules and In Defense of Food. He made me realize how complicated our food has become, and that a return to simplicity (to what our grandmothers actually recognize as food) is warranted.

A friend recommended Magda Szabo’s The Door awhile ago so I thought it’s high time I read it. I really don’t know much about the book but hey, it has a 4.06 rating on Goodreads.

And last but definitely not the least is F. Sionil Jose’s Gagamba. The title is the Filipino word for spider, and it’s a little embarrassing that I still haven’t read any of his work. This will be my first book from the author, a title I picked up when I was in the Philippines in March.

What are you reading this month? Let me know by leaving a comment below. As always, happy reading!