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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain – Robert Olen Butler

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler


I have two copies of this book. I decided to buy a more decent copy because the first one that I had is like a coloring book. There were paragraphs after paragraphs highlighted with various colors. I don’t mind highlighting, although I don’t practice it, but it seems that the original owner of the book used it to perfect the art and science of highlighting.

Besides, one is supposed to highlight only if there is a need to do so, like if there is an urgency to the text to be highlighted or if it is an utterly delicious one. One can argue that there’s just too much to highlight because of the beauty of it all. If that’s the case, do not highlight. That will save the world from extra chemicals that are packed in highlighters. I don’t think they are eco-friendly.

So yes, I have ranted a bit on highlighting. It’s now time to see what the highlights of this collection are.

The Rhapsody

The only story that is highlighted in my mind from this collection is about this woman who breaks a parrot’s neck. The parrot was a pet bought by the woman’s grandfather. The grandfather dies and the parrot goes on living. However, the parrot seemed to have developed an irascibility associated with old age. There were times when the parrot bit the woman’s fingers.

I don’t exactly recall why the woman came to such a decision, but I think the killing of the parrot is not of murderous intentions. It was more of like euthanasia because the parrot seemed to have become the extension of the grandfather’s life. There was a lot of talk about the parrot’s temperament and nature as a pet, and with all these seemingly unimportant information integrated, one will understand why the parrot met its end under the woman’s hands.

Fortunately, the parrot did not end up in the woman’s stomach. Are parrots even edible? And I wish I could recall what the title of this story is.

There is also an almost forgettable mention regarding the Philippines in one of the stories here. The author compared the Philippine patis, or fish sauce, or turpentine, to its Vietnamese counterpart. Of course, the latter was favored, but really, this isn’t a big issue, unless one is a food connoisseur. I just wonder about this: is the Philippine patis too salty?

This collection is a clear and triumphant voice of Vietnam. Her mountains, rivers, markets, traditions, and folklores are magnificently depicted in the stories. And the author isn’t even Vietnamese. You have to give him credit for that, for the good scent of these stories coming from a not so strange country.

Vietnam is a neighbor, and I am used to strangeness. And yes, I may not remember them, the stories, too well, but I remember having good feelings when I read them.

4 star - really liked itFinal Notes

Vietnam is so lucky to have her voice heard throughout the world thanks to the author of this book. I wish the Philippines could share the same fate. Our country has a lot of stories to tell. There are some attempts already, but I don’t think the book that will carve Philippine stories in the literary niche has been published yet.

There are Jessica Hagedorn, Miguel Syjuco, and Jose Rizal (yes, thanks to Penguin’s publication of his Noli Me Tangere) who are out there to write. Syjuco has won the Man Asian Literary Prize. I haven’t read his work yet. Okay, I am going to buy a copy before this day ends and hopefully squeeze it in my reading list.

I hope more of these critically acclaimed works about the Philippines will be in the local and international book stores.

(Image courtesy of

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