The Yellow Bar by John Falch, AF, 2012, mobi ebook version, 241p, Rating=4.5
Source: I requested a copy from author in exchange for an honest review
If war came home and pounded on your front door, what would you do to survive?
Meet the Reynaldos, a simple country family living on their farm in 1940s American Philippines. Good luck has bounced their way and the family is climbing out of rural poverty to become successful entrepreneurs.
Meet Eric Lawson, the gay manager of the only five star hotel in town. With all the luxury and celebrity that comes with the job, what's not to love about Manila?
Meet the beautiful Pinky del Rosario, and her husband, Romeo; they're the hottest Big Band act in southeast Asia. With her voice and his talent, the sky seems to be the only limit to their ambitions.
But sweet luck turns sour when World War Two blows up explosively in their faces. The victorious Japanese Army arrives, bringing with them a new set of rules and other unpleasant surprises. For the Reynaldos, this means becoming servants in their own house. For Eric Lawson, it's fear, brutality, and the specter of starvation in a prisoner-of-war camp. And as for Pinky and Romeo, singing for the enemy puts them on a dangerous tight-wire between collaboration and sedition.
As seen through the eyes of the Reynaldo's youngest son, Pepot, The Yellow Bar delivers a close up view of the almost forgotten history of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and the horrors of the battle of Manila, telling the story of a remarkable family that struggles to survive it all through quick thinking, faith, and a pinch of dark humor.
Based on a true story.
For the several hours it took me to read this book, I was back home to my native country. Except it wasn't in the Manila that I grew up in back in the 1970s but the Manila that suffered the brutality of World War II in the 1940s. It wasn't pretty but the people were. Specifically, the Reynaldo family and a few of their special friends. Through their experiences during the heart of this Japanese occupation of the Philippines, I got to see courage, ingenuity, and resilience of the people from the country I call my first home. It warmed my heart and made me proud to be a Filipino.
Fear not, this historical fiction wasn't all depressing because it didn't concentrate on the angle of textbook history of the war but centered its story from an intimate perspective, narrated by a ten year boy who lived through (and his family) the three critical war years. That intimacy was the key that brought this book to life for me. Oh, how I saw the characters in this book as my compadres. I feared, I cried, I suffered, and I laughed along as their stories unfolded. Typical Filipino mannerism rang true in the read. Namely, close knit family bond, wit under stress, and old fashion humor.
Another beauty in the book was the writing. Multiple main stories were going on simultaneously. Examples include and not limited to: the happenings of the Reynaldo family at their Culi-Culi home under duress by Japanese army men; Aunt Pinky and husband, Romeo, doing their entertainment show in Manila; Eric and company (including U.S. General MacArthur) in the Manila Hotel; Imelda and her life with her new Japanese husband, and Chinese woman in her dealings in the parachute factory. That was a lot to juggle but the read went smoothly and by book's end, they all tied in. It was amazing! A reader's dream ..all the characters were well developed, interesting, and purposeful. I cared about them. I tell ya, Mr. Falch is a gifted writer. Simply well done.
With impeccable character development and great incorporation of historical facts, this novel is a fine candidate for a bestseller.
Thank you Mel u @The Reading Life for putting this book in my radar (see his awesome review, here). And of course, thank you Mr. Falch for accepting my request to read and review this book. I appreciate the gift.
Now let's get to know a little bit more about the book and its author ...
Tell us about yourself Twitter style, 140 word limit.
I am an American dreamer from Jacksonville, Florida who has spent over twenty years of my life in southeast Asia.
I sense you have a love for the Philippine people. If so, why?
That’s very easy to explain; I lived in Manila for about 5 years. My wife is Filipina. When I married her, I married the entire family. It was from the Reynaldos that I learned that Filipinos are the most generous and loving people on earth. I also learned that Pinoy humor is second to none.
Why did you feel you had to tell this story?
There are actually three reasons I wrote this book. First, while I was living in Manila in the 1980s, I met many older Filipinos who would tell me about how they survived the war. It was amazing and horrific stuff. I had never heard of the battle and liberation of Manila and the Philippines. (I, like most Americans, are painfully ignorant of history outside of our own.) I felt that this was a story that needed to be told.
Second, I wanted more young Filipinos to know this incredible history. I think the younger generation has no idea what their grandparents and great-grandparents went through in the 1940s. It is something to be proud of; it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Finally, The Yellow Bar is also a tribute to my mother and father-in-law: two wonderful people who treated me as one of their own, and loved me like a son.
How did you come to decide to tell the story through a young boy's point of view?
Pepot, the protagonist in The Yellow Bar, is based on my father-in-law. He was just a boy when the hostilities first came out. It was natural for me to portray the war through his young eyes. I also think that there is a simple honesty when the words come from the mouth of a child.
Was there a balance between what was true and what was fiction?
Oh yes. This much is true: My father-in-law and his family were servants for the Japanese pilots in their own house during the war. Later these pilots would become kamikaze. Also true is that my mother-in-law was forced to work in a Japanese parachute factory. And then, shortly after the war, the Reynaldos started the real Yellow Bar, which was a popular hangout for American GIs, all the way to the 1970s.
I took the basis of this family history and created a fictional story around it. I had to do this to create a larger panorama on what the war was really about.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The research on Manila and the Philippines during World War Two was long and deep. I wanted the history to be factually true. This meant I spent a lot of time reading books and doing history searches to make sure that it was accurate.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Although I love all the characters of my story, I think I’m the most pleased about Eric Lawson, the gay manager of the Manila Hotel. He was originally just supposed to be a minor character but somehow he just kept popping up in all the right places.
What would you like your readers to grasp from this book?
The Yellow Bar is an anti-war novel. I hope this comes through clearly. There is nothing glorious or intelligent about war; all it does is destroy the innocent. Also, we learn that a hero can come from anywhere, whether it be a housewife, a small child, or even a swishy queen. Bravery lives in all of us.
What did you learn from writing your book?
I learned that the liberation of the Philippines was more horrific than I had ever imagined.
If there is something you could change about this book, what would it be?
I am very satisfied with The Yellow Bar. I wrote it the best I could. However, I wrote a long prologue, which I call “Lola Suzy Tells You the History of The Philippines in Ten Minutes.” It’s about twelve pages long and was in my original manuscript. My editors told me that the story took too long to get started, so I cut it. It was a hard thing to do. Broke my heart. (If anyone would like to read it, email me.)
Thank you Mr. Falch for taking the time to be interviewed. It's fascinating to get your perspective on The Yellow Bar and get some insights on your journey to its development. What a wonderful message that bravery can live in all of us. Your characters definitely showed that! I enjoyed the mixture of humor in the novel as well. Lola Suzy was especially a hoot! Bummer all her story didn't make it in the final book. I'll definitely email you for that manuscript. :)
Only $2.99. Definitely worth it!