📖: Lysley Tenorio’s The Son of Good Fortune (2020)
🍸: hello city
Why this book?
“I’m not here, I’m not really here.” Excel repeats this mantra to himself to escape from the present and become invisible. From an early age, Excel has learned that he and his mother Maxima are undocumented immigrants from the Philippines.
With his secrecy and fear, teenaged Excel feels like he can only go so far. He works at a local pizza shop, lives at home with Maxima instead of going to college, and spends most nights on the roof of their apartment alone. He lives by a freeway that has two Targets on either side, and one day, he walks from one storefront to the other, counting the 1,084 steps he took to “just to get to a place exactly the same as where [he] started.”
So when Excel sees an opportunity to move to Hello City with his new girlfriend, he takes it. He leaves Maxima behind without looking back, but circumstances force him to return to reconcile with his mother and reflect on the choices they’ve made and will continue to make as a family.
For me, this poignant novel felt like a modern spin on “The Prodigal Son,” with a focus on what it means to belong, be seen, and self-determine one’s future in a country where being undocumented is criminalized. Lysley Tenorio’s prose is clear and straightforward, and he balances the gravitas of this story with quirky details, wry humor, and a curious prologue that draws you in.
The portrayal of Excel and Maxima’s relationship was especially moving for me because Maxima — with her resourcefulness, sacrifices, and conviction — reminded me of my own mom, who immigrated to the US as a single parent. Maxima is such a multi-layered and unique character, and I still wanted to learn more about her by the time I reached the last page.
October is also Filipino American History Month, so I highly recommend picking up this novel and then following it up with Lysley Tenorio’s debut book Monstress if you haven’t yet!
Why this drink?
For this pairing, I chose a recipe with calamansi as a nod to Maxima and Excel’s Filipino roots. (This recipe comes from the now-closed Krystal’s Cafe 81 in NYC.)
1.5 oz mezcal
0.5 oz Cointreau
1 oz lime juice
1 oz calamansi juice
0.5 oz agave syrup
splash of orange juice
lime or calamansi wheel
- combine all other ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice
- serve with ice
- garnish with a lime or calamansi wheel
*If you don’t have any calamansi juice, you can sub it out for freshly squeezed orange juice.
*If you don’t have any agave syrup, use a simple or demerara syrup instead.
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!