By Niyati Keni
Published Feb 2015
Esperanza , one of the oldest streets in Puerto, its heartbeat made up of thousands of smaller pulses, lulled us all with its apparent constancy. Yet even then, unknown to us, in a bright, air-conditioned office as close to our street as it was distant, a new remorseless beat was gathering.
It is the early 1980’s and eight year old Joseph finds himself working in a boarding house on Esperanza street, in Puerto, a small port in the Philippines. Owned by Mary Morelos – "Aunt Mary" – Joseph soon befriends her two sons, Benny and the older Dub. Their days are spent amongst the colourful characters who make up Esperanza street – Johnnie Five Course, Lottie and Lando and their "House on Wheels", Rico and his "Barracuda" boys and Suelita, for whom Joseph holds a torch. But when Joseph’s mother dies and local entrepreneur, Eddie Casama, starts making plans for Esperanza street, everyone’s lives are turned upside down and for Joseph nothing will be the same again.
Reminiscent of the writing of Tahmima Anam and Anjali Joseph (2011 Desmond Elliott Prize winner) and set against the colourful, complex backdrop of the Philippines, Esperanza Street is an exquisitely written, funny and bittersweet novel. It is a story of change, the uneasy friction between old and new cultures, and the coming-of-age of a young boy.