By Mark Lester Ranchez
Not all that dwells among the dead are departed—some of them are only searching for a place to call home, just like the child protagonist in Marie Miranda Cruz’s Everlasting Nora. Published by Starscape in 2018, Cruz’s debut novel paints a more humane picture of perhaps the most misunderstood demographic and geography in the Philippines: the squatters.
Set in one of the oldest cemeteries in Metro Manila, Everlasting Nora takes the readers into Nora’s world, a precocious girl whose tragic present is the result of both losing her beloved father and precious home in a fire, and her desperate quest to find her mother who one day mysteriously disappears. With heart-twitching narrative, the story exudes with vivid imagery of the cemetery’s not-so-barren existence.
Through Nora’s eyes and ears, the dead’s territory comes to life—the cry of an infant in the morning, the crunching of a cart’s wheels through the cemetery’s concrete alleys, the lively commotion of its inhabitants waking at the break of dawn—and opens our eyes to another world. Indeed, Nora’s surroundings is everything but dead. “All around me,” she declares, “the living slept among the dead.”
As grievous the realities of her environment may seem, so is Nora resilient. After a fateful tragedy that took her father’s life and the warmth of her home, Nora navigates a life of poverty and despair with her mother in the largest shantytown of its kind in the country. Lodging in her father’s mausoleum, Nora lives in apparent scarcity, surviving off from her meager business of threading together garlands of everlasting daisies and selling them to jeepney drivers, street passers-by, and church-goers in the city. “My chest aches for my old life,” she confides. “It feels like an impossible wish.”
Her life is tried even further when her gambling mother disappears after a night of mahjong game with the neighbors—Nora’s broken life shatters even more with her only hope missing. But her spirit is resolute, and so she doesn’t give up easily. Together with her neighbor and best friend, Jojo, and the support of his generous grandmother, Nora embarks on a desperate journey to find her mother, and along the way rediscovers the resilience of the human spirit, the compassion of her new community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
Though a little graphic for a children book, Everlasting Nora proves a realistic witness to Filipinos’ resilience against life’s impossible challenges, even in the face of great uncertainty. Certainly a must read!
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