Linda Ty-Casper, Master Storyteller

Book Review: A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories by Linda Ty Casper, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House 2018, softcover. ISBN:  9789715068239

In 2015, email conversations with Linda Ty-Casper, I learned she had a manuscript swallowed up by her computer. She had been emailing disturbing reports: “The computer was not cooperative …” Or “Computer just started again, after a week. I wanted to reply before it started acting up again …”

Feeling a pang of loss, I prodded her to get help from one of her daughters to find the lost file.

I should mention that before this conversation with Linda, I had been considering starting up the publishing efforts of PALH (Philippine American Literary House), which I ran. Founded in 1991 as the bookselling arm of PAWWA (Philippine American Women Writers and Artists), PALH had also published several books; and I thought it would be lovely if PALH published fine literary books.

When Linda found the lost manuscript, I asked if she would allow PALH to publish her collection. She generously said yes.

To truncate the story, in 2017 PALH published Linda Ty-Casper’s collection of a novella and eight short stories: A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories. And further, the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House picked up Philippine rights for the same collection.

Like many of Linda’s important writings, her novella is set during a historical milestone in the Philippines. A River, One-Woman Deep occurs during the Estrada years from 1998 to 2001 when the Philippine president rose to power and was impeached after massive rallies. The main character is a Filipina-American who uncovers a family secret during her visit to Manila, a secret caused by another traumatic event in the Philippines – World War II.

Linda Ty-Casper (Photo courtesy of Kristina Casper-Denman)

Linda Ty-Casper (Photo courtesy of Kristina Casper-Denman)

Linda’s collection also includes a story adapted from an earlier novella of hers, A Small Party in a Garden, set during the Marcos era in the Philippines, and which reveals the salvaging and violence that went on during that time.

The other seven short stories, all previously published in American journals, are well-crafted pieces about women dealing with identity, husbands, mothers, and personal issues. If you are familiar with Linda Ty-Casper’s writings, these short stories come across as “quiet.” The stories do not have the edge that her historical fiction have. One needs to know that Linda’s novellas – Fortress in the Plaza and Wings of Stone – had been banned in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship, a testimony to the power of the books. Readers International of London published the books, and like Jose Rizal’s novels, the books were secretly passed around and read as some kind of revolutionary material.

Linda’s work is not for lazy readers. Her writings demand that the readers sink into the minds and worlds of their characters. But Linda Ty-Casper’s stories are most satisfying to those who want good literature, who yearn for strong complex characters, who appreciate fine, elegant writing.

I will confess that I studied Linda Ty-Casper’s writings when I was learning how to write fiction. I considered her “one of my teachers” along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fyodor Dostoevsky, E.M Forster, and other fine writers whose works I deconstructed to see how they created complex characters, how they developed them, how they handled dialogue, setting, conflict – in short, how they created strong stories.

Linda Ty-Casper’s stories are most satisfying to those who want good literature, who yearn for strong complex characters, who appreciate fine, elegant writing.

Right away I saw how masterfully Linda Ty-Casper spins her stories, how carefully she orchestrates her characters’ thoughts and actions, how logical the parts of the story are, and how carefully she follows the internal development of her characters.

I believe Linda Ty-Casper is one of our best Filipino writers. The new generation of readers needs to know that Ty-Casper had been a young lawyer when she discovered what she calls “erroneous and biased books at the Widener Library.” She abandoned Law and became an advocate, through faithfully researched historical fiction, of the Filipino’s right to self-determination.

She went on to write at least 17 books, many of them set during important Philippine historical events: the 1896 Philippine Revolution, the Philippine-American War (1898-1902), World War II, the Martial Law years of the Marcos Dictatorship, the post-Marcos days until the early 2000s where her novella, “A River, One-Woman Deep” leads us. (She continues to write; her computer has many other manuscripts, hopefully not lost.)

Her awards include the SEA WRITE Award, UNESCO/P.E.N., Rockefeller (Bellagio), Radcliffe Fellowship, among others. Her work has been published in Antioch Review, The Asia Magazine, Windsor Review, Hawaii Review, Triquarterly, and many others.

I could not say it better and thus I quote World Literature Today: “In this collection of stories (A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories), Filipina American Linda Ty-Casper runs her fingers along the scars left behind in the wake of historical events in the Philippines, parsing out what it means to live through and after the trauma of dictatorships and wars. Her sobering descriptions of the intersection of the global and personal create a moving narrative, brimming with strength and humanity.”

But the above quote has one mistake: Linda Ty-Casper calls herself a “Filipina.” She has never given up her Filipino citizenship, despite having lived in the United States for decades.

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is the author and editor of 21 books. The Philippine edition of her first novel, When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (University of Michigan Press) will be released by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in 2019.

PALH (Philippine American Literary House), which she runs, has published Veronica Montes’s collection, Benedicta Takes Wings and Other Stories; Eve La Salle Caram’s novella, Please, San Antonio!; and Linda Ty-Casper’s A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories.

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