The Moon in the Mango Tree
Pamela Binnings Ewen
B & H
Trade Paperback/480 pages
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". . . rich and glorious. . . ."
The Moon in the Mango Tree is based on a true story. Set in the early 1920’s, it is a richly detailed chronicle of the life of a young woman torn between her desire to study to become an operatic performer and her love for a man. Set in exotic Siam and pre-war Europe, this young woman seeks her own sense of self and struggles for faith, meaning and purpose in her life.
Holding a four year contract in her hand to study in Chicago under a celebrity opera singer, eighteen year old Barbara is thrilled beyond all imagination. When Barbara chooses to marry Harvey, however, she travels to glamorous Siam where her new husband will serve as a missionary surgeon.
She struggles with being a missionary’s wife, facing the disappointment of not living in Bangkok or Chiang Mai where all the sophisticated international people congregate. She sees her dreams of singing for this international set smashed but attempts valiantly to adjust to the backwoods culture of her husband’s assignment.
Resented immediately by the wives of the strict missionaries, most of Barbara’s attempts to become part of them are rejected. She is not qualified to assist as a nurse or a teacher. Her stubbornness and persistence against most odds cause her to start a choir for the native children, which unfortunately the harsh pastor does not accept. She becomes enchanted with the local people and their culture, but her four years are difficult because of the poverty, disease, and lack of appropriate supplies for the small hospital. Her husband is called away to the inner jungle to combat fever, malaria and spirit witch doctors.
Giving birth only reinforces to how much she will never belong. After a trip to the big city for the birth of the first child, Barbara realizes how much she has given up for her husband’s success at the cost of her dreams. When she gets a second opportunity to study under a brilliant teacher in Italy, she convinces her husband, who has now become physician to the King of Siam, to allow her and their two daughters to go while she studies in Rome. In effect, it is a separation. Her husband is devastated but patient.
The international set Barbara meets and the temptations they offer constantly challenge her. Her maestro offers her the opportunity to sing key roles in operas. Again she has a difficult decision to make. Barbara finds herself growing as a person, but she is torn between desire and duty to her marriage. The decision she ultimately makes and her reasons for doing so are what makes the story so rich and glorious.
Reviewer: Sandra Masters McCart