A Review of Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey's "Marilyn"
Maria T. Vallarta
Migration, movement, displacement. These are but a few themes Amanda Ngoho Reavey touches in the mosaic that is Marilyn. A compendium of poems, experimental prose, and legal documents, Marilyn will unsettle you with its rawness, pull you in with its simple yet evocative language, and pique you with questions about kinship, selfhood, and the journey toward decolonization. The various genres colliding, meshing, and singing to one another mimic the severing yet entangling that comes with diaspora, with the shifts between space, place, and name. Marilyn is a narrative of loss, rebirth, and the growth that comes with pain, a door opening a conversation to Philippine transnational adoption.
We are introduced to the world of Marilyn with an archive of legal documents—a passport, a resident alien card, and a stark headshot—all produced when Reavey was a child. These documents show that the process of transnational adoption does not begin with the hugs and smiles of welcoming soon-to-be parents. It is a terrain fraught with surveillance, interrogation, and the making of the adoptee as a managed, state-sponsored, globalized subject. Reavey alludes to this process with the lines, “I was often detained in airports, in a small room with flickering fluorescent lighting: how did I come to have an American passport? What kind of black magic is this? Whom did you pay? And with what?” (in “Tesserae,” 24). Even though the Filipina adoptee possesses the legal documentation of an American citizen, she is still subject to scrutiny and supposed criminality—to suspicions fueled by racialization and gendered implications. Reavey complicates the intersection of race, gender, citizenship, and age and does it so artfully and compellingly.
In fact, the idea of black magic—of subversive healing, power, thought, and spirit—runs throughout the book. In “Interlude: Suturing Techniques,” magic is coupled with the mythical figure of the jungle crow:
In this gorgeous piece blending narrative, poetry, and myth, the subject becomes akin to a deity—singing spells, forging islands, and making sea and sky collide. The jungle crow, seemingly functioning as a kindred spirit or familiar, pecks and pecks at watery bamboo stalks until it splits open. Although we expect Malakas and Maganda, the first Filipino man and woman, to climb out from the bamboo like the traditional Tagalog myth, Reavey ends her piece at that line, in the middle of a bursting, startling moment of creation that alludes to the splitting and severing of self and kinship which concerns Marilyn’s second section. This moment also represents the affect Marilyn invokes throughout—bursts of energy that give life to the page and move the reader.
Although it is challenging to categorize Marilyn as a book of poetry, experimental prose, or an epic lyrical essay, this challenge mirrors the speaker’s own difficulty with finding herself, of attempting to find semblance in her birth mother’s finger print (“Prelude: Emigrant’s Notes on Possession”), her move to her seventh country, Pohnpei, Micronesia (in Tesserae, 68), and the change of her name to “Ngoho, a “sudden feeling, after laying for a long time, of the earth opening up to cradle you” (in “An Architecture of Doorways,” 110). Marilyn is a book that commands your attention and not only will you listen, you will read until you can place the tesserae in this mosaic.
ABOUT GUEST WRITER:
Maria T. Vallarta is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside. Her research is centered on Filipino/American literature, Filipina feminisms, queer theory, and visual cultures. When not writing or studying, she is usually found doodling on notebook covers, dancing to dream pop, and munching on chocolate.