Synopses & Reviews
In her lush, luminous debut novel, Merlinda Bobis creates a dazzling feast for all the senses. Richly imagined, gloriously written, Banana Heart Summer
is an incandescent tale of food, family, and longing — at once a love letter to mothers and daughters and a lively celebration of friendship and community.
Twelve-year-old Nenita is hungry for everything: food, love, life. Growing up with five sisters and brothers, she searches for happiness in the magical smell of the deep-frying bananas of Nana Dora, who first tells Nenita the myth of the banana heart; in the tantalizing scent of Manolito, the heartthrob of Nenita and her friends; in the pungent aromas of the dishes she prepares for the most beautiful woman on Remedios Street. To Nenita, food is synonymous with love — the love she yearns to receive from her disappointed mother. But in this summer of broken hearts, new friendships, secrets, and discoveries, change will be as sudden and explosive as the monsoon that marks the end of the sweltering heat — and transforms Nenita's young life in ways she could never imagine.
"Poet Bobis serves up compassion and tenderness in generous portions in her fiction debut. Twelve-year-old Nenita is the first of six children born to her destitute parents in a Filipino village. Hungry and abused by her overwhelmed mother, Nenita drops out of school one summer in the hopes of earning enough money to support the growing family. Hired as the house girl of her well-to-do neighbors, the Valenzuelas, she befriends her mistress, the beautiful Seorita VV. The entire village experiences profound change during that sweltering summer, mirroring Nenita's coming-of-age. Nenita's passion for food sustains her through difficulties of all sorts, and she relishes each morsel and taste as a treasured gift, even as she faces continued difficulty." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Bobis serves up compassion and tenderness in generous portions in her fiction debut." Publishers Weekly
In her award-winning debut novel, Bobis creates a dazzling feast for all the senses. Richly imagined, Banana Heart Summer is an incandescent tale of food, family, and longing — at once a love letter to mothers and daughters and a lively celebration of friendship and community.
About the Author
Merlinda Bobis has received numerous awards, prizes and fellowships for her fiction, poetry and plays, among them the Prix Italia for Rita's Lullaby, the Steel Rudd Award for the Best Published Collection of Australian Short Stories, the Judges' Choice Award (Bumbershoot Bookfair, Seattle Arts Festival) and the Philippine National Book Award for White Turtle, or The Kissing, and the Philippine Balagtas Award, a lifetime achievement award for her fiction and poetry in English, Pilipino and Bicol. Her plays have been performed in Australia, the Philippines, France, China, Thailand and the Slovak Republic. Banana Heart Summer is her first novel; its Australian edition was short-listed for the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal. Her second novel, The Solemn Lantern Maker, will be released in the U.S. in 2009. As a performer for stage and radio, Merlinda works with artists from various genres. She lives in Australia where she teaches creative writing.
Reading Group Guide
1. What do the chapter titles say about the meaning of food in Nenitas world? What dishes and ingredients are most significant in your life?
2. How do the novels three parts reflect three phases of Nenitas experience during that pivotal summer? What transition is marked as she moves from “The Heart of the Matter” to “The Spleen of the Matter”? Who “becomes a heart” in the final scenes?
3. What does Nana Dora teach Nenita in the beginning of the book, when she shows her how to shred a banana heart, and in the end, telling her that “when you eat the heart of the matter, youll never grow hungry again”?
4. “Remedios” is the Spanish word for remedy, or help. How is the map is used throughout the novel, featuring Remedios Street as the pathway between the volcano and the church? What does the map tell us about the way Nenita sees her neighborhood? What do the perils of the volcano and its eventual eruption and the rituals of the church, such as the novena, represent in Nenitas life?
5. Who has the most power in Nenitas world? Does language divide or unite her Filipino neighbors and the descendants of Spanish colonizers? Does Manolitos mestizo identity, combining Spanish and Chinese ancestry, enhance his appeal? As an outsider, does the red-headed Ralph McKenna have an advantage?
6. Nenita tells us that her parents had very different backgrounds. How did this contribute to the tension in the family? How did her mother and father justify their cycle of abuse and remorse?
7. Chapter Eight captures the personalities of two very different men in Nenitas life-Calcium Man and Manolito. What do they represent to her? What does she discover about the role of men, versus women, in her community?
8. What are the positive and negative effects of working for the Valenzuelas? How does their household compare to the one Nenita had known throughout her childhood?
9. Discuss the many types of hunger described in Banana Heart Summer. How does mastering the chemistry of cooking help Nenita balance other aspects of her life as well?
10. Nenita mentions Mills & Boon romance novels throughout her own tale. Do any of the characters she describes get to live the dramatic, happy outcomes of a Mills & Boon novel?
11. How did the relationships between Nenita and her siblings (particularly Junior) compare to the family you grew up in? How did the anticipation of a new baby, and the tragic outcome that followed, affect Nenita? What did her mother ultimately teach her about being a daughter?
12. Discuss the music that forms a “soundtrack” throughout the novel. What aspects of the 1960s are captured in these songs? Did American and British pop music change the world?
13. Does Nenitas departure make for a happy ending? How would those decades of her adult life have unfolded if she had remained a servant in her homeland instead?
14. What is unique about the storytelling voice used in Banana Heart Summer? How do the authors accomplishments as a prize-winning poet, combined with her Filipino-Australian perspective, make this a special book?
15. If your reading group sampled Nenitas recipes and cooking tips, talk about the experience of preparing and savoring these dishes. Which ones are your favorites? What does cuisine say about a culture?
A dazzling feast of the senses, Banana Heart Summer
captures the intensity of love and hunger in all forms. The debut novel from award-winning writer Merlinda Bobis, this mesmerizing tale portrays the world of a wise, sensitive twelve-year-old girl who experiences an unforgettable summer during the early 1960s. Living in poverty with her five siblings and their parents, Nenita dreams of a magical life, especially one that will satisfy her cravings for succulent meals (as well as her longing for local heartthrob Manolito). When she begins to cook for Miss Violeta “VV” Valenzuela, one of the most sophisticated women in town, a new door is opened in Nenitas life, sometimes forcing her to choose between her family and her new source of income and world-wise ways. Along the way, Nenita savors a remarkable journey of self-discovery, sharing her recipes for all to enjoy.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Merlinda Bobiss Banana Heart Summer. We hope they will enrich your experience of this delectable novel.