poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 3, 2011

ADD TO YOUR SYLLABUS: Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Click to go to Coffee House Press

ISBN: 978-1-56689-254-4

 I highly recommend Leche (shit-yeah, Tagalog speakers, that IS the title), an amazing new novel by R. Zamora Linmark, published by Coffee House Press. It was so hard to put down, I stayed up until the birds started chirping this morning to finish it! It is that kind of page-turner: the characters are so compelling that you feel an urgent need to know what happens to them. I was just about to go to sleep, until I got to the “Sleeping with One Eye Open” chapter on “bangungut”, which roughly translates to “Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome”, a superstition that my Filipino American family totally believes. (So yeah, pamilya: if you’re having a bit of insomnia the night you choose to start the novel, you might want to stop at page 15 and start again in the morning! Or at least wear red to bed like Lola taught us to ward off nightmares of bangungut spirits.) 🙂

Filled with ironic multimedia narrative devices, including several photographs and 31 historical postcards, mostly from Jonathan Best’s coffee-table book A Philippine Album, the novel Leche is a search for memory, identity, family, and home. Woven throughout are hilarious “Tourist Tips”, punctuated by real events in the history of Philippine-American relations. The main character, Vicente de los Reyes (or “Vince”) is a gay twenty-something who returns from Honolulu to his native Philippines for the first time in 13 years. Fans will recognize Vince from Linmark’s first novel Rolling the R’s. (And yes, for those of you who know me or have been following this blog, Leche’s main character has the same name as my father and bakla brother; perhaps that is why I can identify with him so much. In the book, “San Vicente”, or St. Vincent, is the “Patron Saint of Judgment Day”. Go figure.) Fans of Philippine cinema will also love Leche for all of its references to famous actresses and legendary filmmaker Lino Brocka (through the renamed character Bino Boca). In an interview with Wayne State University Professor Robert Diaz, Linmark says about his new novel, “It’s a satire, it’s historical fiction, it’s pop, it’s hyperrealism, it’s anything and everything you want it to be. Exactly like that word: leche.”

I won’t write a full book review here, since I plan to assign this in one of my Asian American Literature, Literature and Empire, or Filipino American studies courses. You can see fellow Pinay poet’s Barbara Jane Reyes’ summary here: http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/2011/05/16/on-r-zamora-linmarks-leche/

and another review on the Asian American Literature Fans Live Journal here: http://asianamlitfans.livejournal.com/98414.html


I first met “Zack” Linmark when he came to Los Angeles for a reading of Rolling the R’s in the mid-1990s. Poet Joel Tan had organized it in Historic Filipinotown of L.A. and it was an awesome gathering; now living in the Bay Area, Joel helped Zack do a dramatic reading of the new book, at the new I-Hotel in San Francisco. Videos from that April event are featured on Filipinas Magazine online: http://www.filipinasmag.com/?p=1363

Zack Linmark and Jessica Hagedorn in New Orleans May 2011. Photo by Emily Lawsin

This past May, I was privileged to be able to see Zack again, along with award-winning-author Jessica Hagedorn, at the Association for Asian American Studies conference in New Orleans. Filipino American Studies professors Christine Balance and Allan Isaac were the emcees at the standing-room-only reception. Zack read the opening chapter of Leche, where he brilliantly describes in detail airport scenes and the contents of “balikbayan boxes” that overseas Filipinos bring home, right down to the cans of Vienna sausages and Spam. All of us Pinoys in the audience were nodding our heads in laughter at the preciseness of his tale.  Right after that, Zack did a fabulous dramatic reading/mock interview with Jessica Hagedorn, performing in character from her brand-new novel Toxicology (next on my reading list). Their rhythmic rapport was fun and impressive, full of improvised ad-libs, allowing Jessica to indulge us in her acting skills. It reminded me of when I saw Jessica perform “Airport Music” with Macarthur Genius Award-winner Han Ong in 1993. (That was around the same time that I had interviewed Jessica for the book Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers, edited by King-kok Cheung.) As always, I felt blessed to be in the presence of national literary treasures.

At the end of the reading, the ever-so-humble Zack thanked the audience of mostly Asian American Studies scholars for teaching his writings all these years. We gave him and Jessica a standing ovation, to thank them for their work and writing too.

Thanks to Linda Pierce Allen for clicking this photo on my phone!

Thanks to Linda Pierce Allen for clicking this photo on my phone!

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Last month, Adobo Nation did a great interview on The Filipino Channel with Zack Linmark here, while he was in San Francisco on his book tour:

For a list of R. Zamora Linmark’s tour stops, check out his RSS event feed here: http://www.coffeehousepress.org/?feed=gigpress&artist=15

For a list of Jessica Hagedorn’s upcoming events, see her new website


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Emily P. Lawsin is a spoken word poet and oral historian who teaches

Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.



1 Comment »

  1. good to know. will be looking out for this book…

    Comment by ilovecheapcalls — July 26, 2011 @ 2:50 am | Reply

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