Like the Mimosa by Filipino-Canadian author Eusebio L. Koh promises an exotic experience. It does not fail. Koh immediately transports the reader into his beloved Filipino world using brilliant descriptions, memorable characters, occasional Filipino words, and humour. He shares intimate truths via stories, poems and essays.
In the short story section we are immediately pulled in by “Soap” which deals with the Japanese occupation of the Philippines at the start of WW II. Koh begins, “In times of war, life is as fragile as it gets.” One might expect dark events after that introduction, but Koh tells the story from a precocious boy’s viewpoint who has a great sense of humour and humanity. All the stories read as colourful history, studies in family dynamics, and explorations of cultural mores.
Koh writes exquisitely crafted cinquains, sonnets, and free verse poems. He explores love, nature, war, faith and Saskatchewan prairie spirit. Perhaps common poetic themes, but Koh is anything but common in his approach. In fact, the poems are often surprising. Love, for example, is reflected in the poem “Theorems.” “Theorems are character portraits/ revealing the true nature of things” is a unique look at what form beauty can take and is a tribute to Koh the Regina mathematician. Other poems like “Mea Culpa” exude wry humour. Koh devotes two poignant war poems to “Dubya,” “the man who talks of freedom” but “has shackled shut the chains around my heart.”
Koh’s essays all focus largely on social justice issues. Essays like “A Colonial Mentality” and “Behind the Ethnic Shield” are powerful examinations of discrimination. What sets Koh apart in this common discussion is his pragmatism. He cites blatant examples of how he has experienced discrimination, but cautions people not to cry racism necessarily. “It weakens our case if … we hide behind our ethnicity and claim racism.” Finally, Koh’s history of Filipino independence is thorough and fascinatingly told.
Ultimately this collection is about the integrity of a people who have survived occupations, colonialism and hard-won independence. This is a book of their truths lovingly told.
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