Kenneth Tan’s book, Crescenciana traces the life of his lola Crescenciana as well as his relationship to her. By centering the stories of her childhood, to their family’s journey of dealing with the atrocities of colonization, to coming to the United States, and the journey of finding solace after Cresenciana’s passing, Kenneth gives readers a glimpse into their lives and the work that still continues.
I have been given the wonderful opportunity to have these stories join me in my morning coffees for the last month. For me, as I read this, this connection that Kenneth has with his grandmother is one that I share with my own. To be able to take a glimpse into the life of Crescenciana was incredible, and to see the connection that he has with his own Lola really hit home for me. It is very hard to capture the impact that grandparents may have, but this memoir really does a fine job of conveying it.
In the first chapter we learn of Crescenciana’s beginnings in the village Villassis in the province of Pangasinan, in the Philippines. Within these first few chapters the book prefaces readers with Crescenciana’s humble, or rather, “simple” (Crescenciana liked simple) beginnings on her family’s farm. As the book progresses, these short stories give readers a highlight into who Crescenciana was as a person.
Within this book, there are also stories about Japanese imperialism within the Philippines. They play an important role in understanding the level of grief and pain that are within this work. Packed in these stories of joy are other real and genuine lived experiences of imperialism and Japanese occupation within the Philippines. These stories offer deep historical understandings and the experiences of Filipinx elders and ancestors. Documentation and works of art like this memoir serve as a testament to our elder’s resilience and care for a better future.
The end of the book recounts her passing and the waves of grief following suit. However, as we learn about the grief and how Kenneth has healed and is still healing, we learn of how far Kenneth has come in his own journey. With these last few chapters of the book, the book delves into how Cresenciana’s work continues and will continue to live on.
Kenneth has such a wonderful ability to storytell. To incite such pure emotions with such clear imagery is an incredible skill and he uses it perfectly in this book. These short stories wrap the reader into moments of understanding and experiencing joy, of connection, of grief, of pain, but most importantly, of love.
I would like to commend and give a huge thank you to Kenneth Tan; simply put this book is already one of my favorite books of all time. It has not only been a pleasure to read this book, but especially to experience the legacy and work of Cresenciana Tan. I am excited for readers to also experience these same emotions as well. If you plan to pick up a copy, the Wing Luke Asian Museum is currently carrying them at the time this review is published.