This romantic novel details the relationship between a young Japanese officer and an older Spanish-Filipino woman during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. The exotic setting adds an interesting element to the slim story; these are not the usual characters found in most World War II stories written in English. Although the focus is almost exclusively on the growing relationship, this is not a traditional “romance novel,” but rather the memories of an elderly man trying to come to terms with his past.
Prince Hasegawa is in his seventies at the novel’s start and is returning to the Philippines hoping to finally put to rest ghosts of his past. As a young man he was placed in command at a “sugar central” — a sugar production site. His nationality and youth isolate him, as do his customs and traditions that are alien among the Filipinos and Spaniards of the island. Maria Antonieta enters his life when he meets with her brother, the director of the sugar central. At first she annoys him, but gradually, despite the language barrier and their age and temperament differences, they develop a passion for one another. Much of their relationship evolves through power plays and battles for control. Eventually, however, their connection becomes much more.
Author Jose Miguel Roig’s simple style is reminiscent of folk tales, particularly those in translation, and his spare writing has a somewhat hypnotic effect that works for the subject. However, he sometimes misuses vocabulary and grammar, creating occasional confusion. Additionally, despite the unusual setting, Roig offers scant sense of the period or place because of his tight focus on the sometimes-repetitive love affair. Of course, it’s that affair that occupies the protagonist’s every thought, so this lack could be seen as supporting the story. Ultimately, however, the very qualities that make the characters and story engaging also leave the readers wishing for more than the author supplies.
Also available as an ebook.