I was eight when my father brought me to one of the big houses at the top of Esperanza Street and left me with Mary Morelos. ‘I haven’t the time to fix broken wings,’ she said. ‘Does he have any trouble with discipline?’ My father glanced at me before answering.
So begins the story of Joseph, houseboy to the once-wealthy Mary Morelos, who lives in the three-storey Spanish colonial house at the top of Esperanza Street. Through Joseph’s eyes we witness the destruction of the community to which they are both, in their own way, bound. Set in a port town in the Philippines, Niyati Keni’s evocative and richly populated debut novel is about criminality under the guise of progress, freedom or the illusion of it, and about how the choices we make are ultimately the real measure of who we are.
Praise for Niyati Keni
- ‘A rich, engaging, thought-provoking read from a gifted new voice. The inhabitants of Esperanza Street get under your skin and will not leave until they have told their story.’ —Vanessa Gebbie, author of The Coward’s Tale
- ‘Joseph is a keen observer and a reluctant hero on the brink of adulthood. His measured and incisive voice, an encapsulation of love, curiosity and hesitant wisdom, brings to life the community he loves and already senses he will one day be forced to mourn.’ —Joanna Luloff, author of The Beach at Galle Road
- ‘A port town in the Philippines is an evocative setting for this gentle, mesmerising novel which artfully tells a story that is both intimate and important. The rhythm of the prose is like waves rolling: narratives overlap, a whole community is painted, and stories knit, weave and feed into one another to create a whole of perfect harmony.’ —Suzanne Joinson, author of A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar
- ‘Set outside Manila in pre-EDSA Revolution Philippines, Esperanza Street is a brilliant glimpse of a small community in the crux of change and upheaval. What brings its people together is bound to tear them apart.’ —Jim Pascual Agustin, author of Alien to Any Skin
- ‘Niyati Keni is compelling at capturing the atmosphere of 1960s and ’70s Philippines, with its Spanish influences, its heat and humidity, its street food and market vendors.’ Booktrust
- ‘The true beauty of this novel, however, is in the way that what appears to be ‘just’ a series of evocative character vignettes inexorably builds to a subtly intertwined tale of a community on the brink of change.’ Anne Hill, Sussex Life
- ‘The pungent smells, sounds, and flavours of Esperanza Street stand out from the spare and slow-to-unfold plot in Keni’s debut . . . What takes readers’ attention beyond each characters’ mundane particulars is Keni’s vivid portrayal of a crumbling yet vibrant barrio . . . It’s the fight between those who support the town’s revitalisation and those who rally against it despite the risks that turns pages.’ Publishers Weekly
- ‘[A] tender coming-of-age story in this contemplative debut novel . . . In this luminous, revelatory study on the connection between person and place, Keni knits a delicate tale of an entangled and endangered community.’ Kirkus Review
- ‘Esperanza Street is a wonderfully evocative novel, richly populated with curanderos, sorcerers, psychic surgeons, street vendors, illegal gamblers, Catholic priests and villains . . . and is filled with humour, young love and sadness. [T]he novel and its characters will linger long in the reader’s mind. Another success from the publishers And Other Stories.’ Jo Harding, We Love This Book
- ‘One of the many striking successes of the novel lies in the richness of its characters . . . It is the humanity and generosity of the characters, despite their circumstances, that offers hope in the novel. The narrative’s pace echoes that of the rhythm of the street. Keni’s writing style is sensual and textured, she precisely captures the smell of local foods or of the dust, flowers and camphor of the boarding house. Yet she avoids the trap of exoticism. The viewpoint is that of an insider, not a tourist.’ Caroline Maldonado, The Flaneur
- ‘This is a recently published debut novel that drew me in from the first page . . . It is a very engaging and supremely well-written book about a changing community. Niyati Keni gives us many vivid pen-portraits of the people Joseph meets.’ —Margaret Fancy, Lancaster Guardian & The Visitor
- ‘The characters are rich and interesting, the story moving on a personal and a wider scale, and the writing truly beautiful.’ Kate Gardner, Nose in a Book
- ‘There’s hope for us all in Esperanza Street . . . The novel has the air of a photograph album . . . richly populated with fascinating characters and dramatic incidents.’ Michael Johnston, Akanos
- ‘This is the sort of novel that small publishing house And Other Stories specialises in and this time they (and the individual sponsors on the novel’s final pages) have discovered gold: they’ve discovered Niyati Keni.’ Ani Johnson, The Bookbag
- ‘The novel is full of fascinating vignettes of life in the Philippines . . . told with affection and warmth, in a hazy, lyrical style that perfectly captures the essence of the place and its people.’ The Tangled Leaves of Anniseed
- Read all about Niyati Keni’s ‘wonderfully evocative’ and ‘richly populated’ debut novel Esperanza Street.
- Read Niyati Keni’s interview for FemaleFirst here.
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