Review: White Lady, Black Christ

I recently purchased the book White Lady Black Christ by Charlson Ong after reading glowing reviews in a local paper. The author is a Filipino-Chinese writer who had penned three other novels, and although I had heard his name before, I had never read him. This time around, the reviews piqued my curiosity and prompted me to put in an order for the book, posthaste, and within days it was in my hands. 

At the outset let me say that my purchase validated my belief that a hard copy of a book is motivation enough to finish it. A soft copy such as a Kindle version would be handy and I’ve purchased quite a number especially since I get a daily Amazon notice of Kindle books on sale, but there’s nothing like the print edition, the feel of hands over paper, fingers over pages, that makes a book a book. I’ve finished Kindle books on an iPad but since my iPad is on loan to someone, I’ve had to contend with trying to read eBooks on my iPhone which is too limiting, to say the least. It’s like squeezing the mind into a 6-x-3-inch screen and keeping it there.  Reading from a print edition is a different kind of feeling, especially knowing you are about to reach the end, and when you do, triumphantly clapping it shut closes the book on a literary experience, literally.

I wouldn’t say the same thing for White Lady Black Christ, however. The closing was far from what I would call triumphant and I ended the experience scratching my head and trying to make sense of what I had just read. The book left me lost. Sure there were funny parts, but they did not quite compensate for the whole of it. 

To be simplistic about it, the novel had neither a hero nor a villain. In fact, there were so many characters, it was easy for the reader to forget the many individual threads that were woven into separate strands. The book had no clear protagonist, while the character who was supposed to be the villain never received his comeuppance and he rides off into the virtual sunset, his fate never known to the reader. 

The book teems with stereotypical personalities of contemporary Philippine culture—the wealthy Filipino-Chinese doctor, an overseas Filipino worker who runs afoul of the law abroad and returns home, a foreign missionary stationed in the uplands and turns rogue, the policeman who fancies himself a messiah—and situates these characters within the Filipinos’ obsession with ritual and religion. It has the makings of a great novel even if the characters seemed to leap at me like people from straight out of the early evening newscast. But, alas, the author didn’t get to the point where he could make the point. Truth be told, I felt it was just half a novel. The other half is sitting somewhere in the author’s laptop and for some reason, he forgot to include it when he sent his manuscript to his publisher. 

But still I would encourage readers to get their copies of the book. It can be an engaging read—amusing for Filipinos to read of themselves from the eyes of a writer who is himself probably learning to discover the Filipino side of his identity. 

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