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Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir

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Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it. Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her fa Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it. Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her family moved into Mansion Royale, a stately ten-bedroom home in the Philippines. Filled with her mother’s opulent social aspirations and the gloriously excessive evidence of her father’s self-made success, it was a girl’s storybook playland. But when a monsoon hits, her father leaves, and her mother’s terrible lover takes the reins, Cinelle’s fantastical childhood turns toward tyranny she could never have imagined. Formerly a home worthy of magazines and lavish parties, Mansion Royale becomes a dangerous shell of the splendid palace it had once been. In this remarkable ode to survival, Cinelle creates something magical out of her truth—underscored by her complicated relationship with her mother. Through a tangle of tragedy and betrayal emerges a revelatory journey of perseverance and strength, of grit and beauty, and of coming to terms with the price of family—and what it takes to grow up.


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Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it. Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her fa Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it. Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her family moved into Mansion Royale, a stately ten-bedroom home in the Philippines. Filled with her mother’s opulent social aspirations and the gloriously excessive evidence of her father’s self-made success, it was a girl’s storybook playland. But when a monsoon hits, her father leaves, and her mother’s terrible lover takes the reins, Cinelle’s fantastical childhood turns toward tyranny she could never have imagined. Formerly a home worthy of magazines and lavish parties, Mansion Royale becomes a dangerous shell of the splendid palace it had once been. In this remarkable ode to survival, Cinelle creates something magical out of her truth—underscored by her complicated relationship with her mother. Through a tangle of tragedy and betrayal emerges a revelatory journey of perseverance and strength, of grit and beauty, and of coming to terms with the price of family—and what it takes to grow up.

30 review for Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julia Wesley

    Wow. I normally shy away from memoirs. They make me feel like an ambulance chaser. Also, how do I trust them? Memories are so flexible, influenced by emotion and our own brain’s desire to protect itself. How do you fit an entire life in 230ish pages? And such a tumultuous one at that? I don’t know. I have no desire to do it myself, and even if I did, I’m positive I couldn’t do it with even a single iota of the poignancy Barnes does. The boasts of lyrical writing are not overinflated. She has som Wow. I normally shy away from memoirs. They make me feel like an ambulance chaser. Also, how do I trust them? Memories are so flexible, influenced by emotion and our own brain’s desire to protect itself. How do you fit an entire life in 230ish pages? And such a tumultuous one at that? I don’t know. I have no desire to do it myself, and even if I did, I’m positive I couldn’t do it with even a single iota of the poignancy Barnes does. The boasts of lyrical writing are not overinflated. She has somehow managed to take a tortured and hellish childhood, and tell it in such a compelling and compassionate way that she made it sound almost magical. Like a Grimm fairytale. The childhood in this book was so fantastically unlike my own, that there were times when I wondered how a life like this could even be possible. Growing up a as pseudo-princess in the gilded and opulent Mansion Royale? Living a lavish life funded by her fathers’s business in the Middle East, which is threatened by the Gulf War and finally toppled by a monsoon? Then for it to become home to thugs and cockfighting and prostitutes and decay? I twiddled with my tassel while viewing the spectacular show that was Mansion Royale. The more I fidgeted with the golden tuft, the more it came undone. Braids untwisted, threads thinned out. Soon the tassel was merely a fray—a fringe no longer gilded, an unhemmed bunch of loose thread. I grew up generally happy, but definitely safe, in suburbia, so I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in the land of normalcy that the author always craved, so this book was eye opening. Born into an exorbitantly wealthy Filipino family in the 80s, Barnes grew up in Mansion Royale: a physical manifestation of her parent’s affluence. A crowning jewel that eventually turned into an albatross. It was a sign of the wealth and status that Barnes’ parents, but particularly her mother, were unwilling to let go of. We prayed before breakfast. Papa blessed our meal and thanked God for the bounty. He said, “Make us content with what we have and prepare us for whatever may lie ahead.” Mama interrupted. “Lord, keep us where we belong. We do not know how to be anywhere else. Please bless us—in the best high-class possible way—for as long as the Republic lives.” In fact, her mother refuses to let go of the unraveling, fraying strands of her status—what she considers a birthright—and she refuses to let go of the mansion. So much so, that as the mansion decays, she goes along with it. She kept mumbling, until finally, she snapped. “Not the mansion, too! We don’t know how to be anywhere else! Puñeta!” Her words and tone jolted me out of sadness and sympathy, and into fear. I let go of the curtain, which drifted for a moment in the air and landed on her back. The cloth confined her shakes, her mutters, her cries, and disguised her as part of the house. She was part of the house. Her weeping was the mansion’s very voice. Her father bails under the pretense of saving the world, her brother gets lost in drugs, and her mother finds Norman. Norman finds gratification in emotional manipulation, intimidation, abuse and neglect, and the unending pursuit of money. Her mother and Norman find each other in their desperate grabs at power, and Barnes finds herself resilient but stuck in their monsoon. I highly recommend this book. I mean, look at that book cover! Gorgeous! Almost as pretty as the words inside it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ Literary Garbage Can ✨ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest When asked to describe my literary tastes, the quote from Lydia in Beetlejuice comes to mind: "I myself am strange and unusual." I'm drawn to weird books, the more outlandish the concept or the more mixed the reviews, the better. Oh, I like NYT best-sellers as much as anyone, because I'm a curious cat at heart, but what really gets that rush of anticipation through my veins is the idea of reading something super strange and freaky. #FFOMO Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest When asked to describe my literary tastes, the quote from Lydia in Beetlejuice comes to mind: "I myself am strange and unusual." I'm drawn to weird books, the more outlandish the concept or the more mixed the reviews, the better. Oh, I like NYT best-sellers as much as anyone, because I'm a curious cat at heart, but what really gets that rush of anticipation through my veins is the idea of reading something super strange and freaky. #FFOMO (freaky fear of missing out). And memoirs are perfect for #FFOMO MONSOON MANSION crossed by radar when the Kindle store was having a deal in which you could buy certain books for "credits" to get free books with purchase. I almost bought it but the price tag was too expensive, so I waited until it went on sale. The premise of abuse as explored in memoirs is sadly not a rare concept, and I think that uniform experience is another tick in the #MeToo movement's favor tbh, but MONSOON MEMOIR stood out among that backdrop of (mostly white) tragedy because it was set in the Philippines and being told by a woman of color. Cinelle Barnes grew up in a large and opulent mansion. Her childhood was a whirl of color and glamor reminiscent of a Baz Lurhmann film, with champagne toasts and dinner parties and glittering chandeliers. Then, one day, a monsoon hits, causing destruction to both the house and their family fortunes. Her father leaves to pursue other opportunities that might make money, and in his absence her mother decides to take up with her (white) lover, a crazy and abusive con artist with political aspirations who thinks nothing of selling counterfeit title deeds or filling the house with prostitutes. I think when I was picking this up, I was expecting something like CHANEL BONFIRE or THE GLASS CASTLE. Something that was sort of romantic, even as you found yourself thinking, "Oh my God, who does that with their kids?" (*cue "Won't Somebody Think of the Children?" refrain from Helen Lovejoy*) MONSOON MANSION was significantly darker than that. Norman, her mother's abusive boyfriend, is a monster. He makes her do chores for him to get meals. He stops paying the water bills, telling her now she gets to see what other people in her country live like, so she has to get her own water from a well and ends up getting food poisoning after ingesting hundreds of mosquito larvae (and probably bacteria as well) from the untreated water. As a present, her mother gave her a baby chick she raised to a chicken, and to punish her after losing one of his own cockfights, Norman kills her pet bird and serves it up at dinner, much to her horror. He also turns their house into a brothel and some of his creepy friends even come up to Cinelle's room and molest her. Ugh. It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed this book because in part it was so awful, but also it had some technical errors that kept it from being a truly enjoyable book for me. First, I do want to say that I appreciate the raw honesty in the author's writing and the vividness of her recollection. I think tragedy can brand you, and if you can take that intense pain and turn it into something therapeutic, that's wonderful. Memoirs can be good catharsis - provided that they don't force you to relive your tragedies in an unhealthy way - and even provide solace to others going through similar situations. I've always believed writing to be powerfully therapeutic for people who have anger or sorrow that they don't feel comfortable expressing in other ways, and I suspect that Cinelle Barnes feels the same. The problem is that the beginning is a slog. It's necessary to provide contrast to the last half of the book, when her family loses their fortune, but the long laundry lists of their wealth and privilege got a little dull after a while and caused me to shelve this book for a bit before gearing myself back up for round two. Her writing style is very flowery and dreamy, and while this usually works, sometimes it doesn't. She tends to use multiple metaphors, when one would serve far more concisely. Also, from a purely technical aspect, there's something off with the page count of this book. It's supposed to be only about 241 pages but is much longer than that, because when I got to page 241 in my Kindle book, I was only about 85% done according to the progress bar. I continued reading, and the pages all said 241, even as the progress bar continued to move. Methinks someone screwed up. Overall, MONSOON MANSION is a pretty good book. I think if you are into memoirs written by people like Jeannette Walls, Elizabegth Gilbert, or Mary Karr, you'll probably enjoy MONSOON MANSION. It wasn't quite to my tastes but I think memoir enthusiasts will enjoy it more than I did. 3 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I started reading this at the beginning of the month when I was recording a memoir episode. It didn't make the cut for that episode (which won't be posted until May) but I feel like I came back to it with a fresh chance and a little more filipino history under my belt. Early on some of the writing was really bothering me (I started marking all the uses of would've and should've, which felt overused and obnoxious at the beginning; when I came back to it I was just paying more attention to the sto I started reading this at the beginning of the month when I was recording a memoir episode. It didn't make the cut for that episode (which won't be posted until May) but I feel like I came back to it with a fresh chance and a little more filipino history under my belt. Early on some of the writing was really bothering me (I started marking all the uses of would've and should've, which felt overused and obnoxious at the beginning; when I came back to it I was just paying more attention to the story.) In between I read America Is Not the Heart, which contains a lot of detail about Filipino history and culture, which helped in understanding the time period of this memoir - mostly late 1990s. I still feel like I don't know quite enough about the historical context, but at least... more. This is Cinelle's story and sometimes I had to remind myself this was real because some of it feels so unbelievable. Her family was rich until they weren't, and as her father's employment ventures collapsed, they were unable to buy food and electricity much less maintain the huge mansion the family lived in. There are vivid descriptions of a debilitating flood early on that certainly doesn't help anything, but then a period of a few years where her father is gone, her mother pairs up with a smooth-talking criminal and brings prostitutes and chickens into the bottom levels of the mansion. All the while, Cinelle is trying to go to school and pretend like everything is okay. She's able to do this for a while but it seems like when her brother leaves, everything becomes much harder. Reading and writing have a role to play here in giving her something to focus on, but it is really difficult to read about the lack of parenting and care in her life. The stand-in man of the house steals from her and then uses as her as a pawn in a very violent scenario, and her mother has dropped all pretense of playing any role but his shenanigan partner. There is this one moment where Cinelle has to write an essay and she writes about how her mother is the mansion, the land, and the monsoon - almost as if the author had played with including those ideas in the book but decided not to. (I really connected with the imagery and wish she had!) She does shy away from some details and some events are very vaguely alluded to, but I understand why she might do that. Knowing she was in that situation and then ended up as an MFA student in my state with other college in between is really startling, and I am very glad for her that she is settled into a more stable life.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Devon

    This was somehow an easygoing read, yet harrowing. It’s truly is lyrical, almost poetic, oddly. Considering Barnes has had so much time to think about her past, to carry such a heavy weight, she is able to detail the chronology from riches to rags, physical (and metaphorical) deterioration of her Mansion Royale, to her present day. This book comes in as a light and steady rain, but as it goes on, you get thrown into the storm.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ciara Wilkie

    This novel was very hard for me to read. While my childhood wasn't nearly as traumatic as Barnes's, I could relate in many ways. This novel is poetic. Beautiful prose clashes with the ugly reality Barnes lived through. What starts out as a fairy tale becomes twisted and dark. What I enjoyed about this memoir is that Barnes got out, and much like The Glass Castle there is a sense of hope. Barnes doesn't choose to be bitter, instead accepting this happened, but she doesn't have to be like her moth This novel was very hard for me to read. While my childhood wasn't nearly as traumatic as Barnes's, I could relate in many ways. This novel is poetic. Beautiful prose clashes with the ugly reality Barnes lived through. What starts out as a fairy tale becomes twisted and dark. What I enjoyed about this memoir is that Barnes got out, and much like The Glass Castle there is a sense of hope. Barnes doesn't choose to be bitter, instead accepting this happened, but she doesn't have to be like her mother. For anyone who has a rocky childhood, neglectful parents, narcissistic parents, this could be triggering. Barnes is a miracle to have escaped that life and to be healthy and loving. While this book was great, I think I'm taking a break from memoirs for a bit. They are so emotional and heart breaking, though usually they end well and have hope. It's just so hard to read true stories and know this actually happened to someone, that people can do such horrid things to each other. On a positive note people can be amazing and there is always a light in the dark.

  6. 5 out of 5

    the_bookshelf_explorer

    Kudos to authors brave enough to tell the world their truth. This memoir of a young phillipino girl (ages 3-12) is filled with privilege and trauma and I don’t wish to take away from her experience. However, I did not warm to its telling. The lyricism and never ending descriptions drove me nuts. Memories from my very early years are like clouds, reach out and they disappear but that could just be me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    The most beautiful book I have read this year. It is a gift. It gives one hope that all will be right on the morrow. It is a gem. It is very very precious. Taste it in the narrow of your bones and savor it. I hope this sista keeps on writing. The world is blessed to hear her voice. I read it in one day and could not stop until it ended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Krysty Dimas

    Overall Rating: 5 stars I finished this book about 3 days ago, and it's taken me a while to gather all my thoughts cohesively enough to write a review that was everything this book deserves. I have a lot of thoughts on this one, and I was recovering from the realest book hangover. Before I even opened the book, I felt a connection with the author (Cinelle Barnes) and her story because she is Filipina. I am Filipina-American. And although my time in the Philippines is limited to 2 vacations: 1 for Overall Rating: 5 stars I finished this book about 3 days ago, and it's taken me a while to gather all my thoughts cohesively enough to write a review that was everything this book deserves. I have a lot of thoughts on this one, and I was recovering from the realest book hangover. Before I even opened the book, I felt a connection with the author (Cinelle Barnes) and her story because she is Filipina. I am Filipina-American. And although my time in the Philippines is limited to 2 vacations: 1 for my 3rd birthday, and 1 from nearly 15 years ago, my inner tug and yearning to hear stories about my motherland is what ultimately led me to starting this book sooner than I had originally planned. Monsoon Mansion tells the story of a girl's journey from riches- to (and through) - rags. Cinelle and her family (mom, dad, kuya (big brother)) moved into Mansion Royale when she was 2. Her mom came from wealth - a politician's daughter. Her dad worked his way up the ranks by serving as a recruiter - bringing Filipino workers to places in the Middle East to work. Life for them was full of parties, they were catered to by house-help and nannies ("yaya"). Then the Gulf War happened - and that changed everything. Money started to slowly trickle away and the family had to get creative in order to find a way to make ends meet and maintain the Louboutin-Chanel-Vuitton lifestyle that mama had been so accustomed to. Regardless of whether or not you are Filipino, your heart will ache for Cinelle and her family. You will be opened up to the dynamics of a family and what it takes to survive - how it feels to go from everything to nothing. You will want to reach out across the virtual world to hold this baby girl in your arms and tell her that everything will be okay (- but will it?). You will see just how much money can change people, how much we let money (or the lack thereof) control our lives. You will cringe, you will be angry, you will want to scream. If you are Filipino, you will relate SO HARD to this book - prepare yourself. As she tells you about her mom, you can imagine which tita in your family she's talking about. You'll get a sense of familiarity as you read the Tagalog - I could practically hear the words being spoken with the heavy-accented Taglish that I know all to well from my own house. You will understand Cinelle's bond with each of her family members (especially mama), and you will have a personal connection with her stories because you will get it. Because certain parts of our culture are ingrained in our blood - never something we are taught - just something we are. Cinelle perseveres through what seems to be never-ending turmoil, struggle and pain. The story of hope and resilience will inspire and encourage you in the face of any circumstance. I was happy to see where the story turned around and I definitely felt a sense of pride to read about where Cinelle is today and how well she is doing - I'm so PROUD of her. SO PROUD. I'm not a big memoir fan. When given the choice between a fiction novel and a memoir, 9 times out of 10, I'm going for the novel. But please, do yourself a favor and read Monsoon Mansion - I'm so glad I did. One of my top reads for 2018, for sure. Reading Pace: 5 of 5; Finished this in 3 days - which is fast for me, trust me. Engagement Factor: 5 of 5; This is a memoir that reads like a novel and hooks you like a thriller. Characters: 5 of 5; You'll have your favorites. ;) Ending: 5 of 5; MABUHAY! .. peace. love. and books! (IG: @readerby_night)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nia Ita

    A MUST READ This moving and thought-provoking memoir by VONA alumn, Cinelle Barnes, was magical. Cinelle tells her story of moving into a mansion in the Philippines when she was three years old. A mansion purchased by her mother’s inherited wealth and her working father’s oil industry money. Stricken by a monsoon and financial struggles, Cinelle’s home literally and figuratively begins to fall apart. Eventually, she is left in a decaying mansion with only her mother and an abusive step-father. Th A MUST READ This moving and thought-provoking memoir by VONA alumn, Cinelle Barnes, was magical. Cinelle tells her story of moving into a mansion in the Philippines when she was three years old. A mansion purchased by her mother’s inherited wealth and her working father’s oil industry money. Stricken by a monsoon and financial struggles, Cinelle’s home literally and figuratively begins to fall apart. Eventually, she is left in a decaying mansion with only her mother and an abusive step-father. This is an inspiring story of resilience in the face of tragedy that left me in awe. The craft was flawless. Cinelle painted a cinematic film with her words and metaphors. This was, by far, my favorite read of this #25infive attempt. Five stars, hands down. www.niaita.net Instagram: @_niaita Twitter: @_niaita

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    This book is okay. I got it for free through Kindle First instead of my usual choice of thriller, to diversify a bit. The author definitely has weathered many storms (and monsoons, literally) and there’s a great story here, but the writing was too overwrought and flowery for me. She paints evocative landscapes and ties the physical and political destruction of the Philippines to the personal damage she experienced growing up, but I couldn’t really get into it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    Absolutely stunning. This is by far the best book I’ve read to date this year, and it’s certainly going on my all-time Favorites shelf. Barnes’ memoir of her rollercoaster childhood in Manila and subsequent triumphant quest for solid ground left me stunned. This is a MUST READ!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jamise // Spines & Vines

    What a beautifully written memoir. Cinelle Barnes gently peels back the layers of her life in the Philippines living in the lavish Mansion Royale. Her family basked in their opulent lifestyle, indulging in all of the finer things. But the Gulf War sends the family into poverty and her life becomes a living hell. A monsoon floods the mansion, her father leaves and their home is taken over by her mother’s wicked lover. The mansion becomes a haven for criminals, gambling (cock fighting), prostituti What a beautifully written memoir. Cinelle Barnes gently peels back the layers of her life in the Philippines living in the lavish Mansion Royale. Her family basked in their opulent lifestyle, indulging in all of the finer things. But the Gulf War sends the family into poverty and her life becomes a living hell. ⁣ ⁣ A monsoon floods the mansion, her father leaves and their home is taken over by her mother’s wicked lover. The mansion becomes a haven for criminals, gambling (cock fighting), prostitution and many other lewd activities. This is a powerful story about survival, love, heartbreak, resilience and redemption. What I loved the most is the delicate way the story unfolds as she details the most horrific events of her brutal childhood. ⁣

  13. 4 out of 5

    david

    (I am going to be slightly guarded here because I believe the authoress will be reading my perspective.) It is true story written by a creative writer who grew up in the Philippines and currently lives in South Carolina/New York. I have always been fascinated by this country although I have never visited it. This proximate memoir opened a world I knew little about. She is a tough one, stronger than most, as are many Filipinos that I have met. The strong feminine bent in her telling is also somethi (I am going to be slightly guarded here because I believe the authoress will be reading my perspective.) It is true story written by a creative writer who grew up in the Philippines and currently lives in South Carolina/New York. I have always been fascinated by this country although I have never visited it. This proximate memoir opened a world I knew little about. She is a tough one, stronger than most, as are many Filipinos that I have met. The strong feminine bent in her telling is also something I was unfamiliar with, in writing, heretofore. Kudos to her for accomplishing so much against odds that were not in her favor. An accomplished person indeed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sachi Argabright

    I could not put this book down! My discussion group wanted to talk about this book in two parts, so I had every intention of reading Part 1 and then stopping until I discussed with my friends. Needless to say that didn’t happen! Barnes is so genuine and sincere in her writing, that I immediately cared for her well being and wanted to know what would happen to her. The book is beautifully written, and illustrates the vast differences in her lifestyle over the span of many years. Lastly, I appreci I could not put this book down! My discussion group wanted to talk about this book in two parts, so I had every intention of reading Part 1 and then stopping until I discussed with my friends. Needless to say that didn’t happen! Barnes is so genuine and sincere in her writing, that I immediately cared for her well being and wanted to know what would happen to her. The book is beautifully written, and illustrates the vast differences in her lifestyle over the span of many years. Lastly, I appreciated her vulnerability about her relationship with her mother. I could not imagine experiencing those situations as a child, and not having the support of my parents. I’m sure it took a lot of strength and courage to unveil that experience to the rest of the world, and I graciously applaud her for it. A must read!!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Goth Gone Grey

    An inspirational memoir, made of light I enjoy memoirs, exploring the world from the comfort of my couch, snuggled in under a warm blanket with a cup of hot tea. The cover art and brief synopsis intrigued me for this book, which was a compelling read. As the story starts, the narrator is young, in the Philippines, a privileged girl in a mansion with servants. Her mother enjoys fine things, name brand clothing, while her father works hard to provide for them and her brother. The text is rich, lush An inspirational memoir, made of light I enjoy memoirs, exploring the world from the comfort of my couch, snuggled in under a warm blanket with a cup of hot tea. The cover art and brief synopsis intrigued me for this book, which was a compelling read. As the story starts, the narrator is young, in the Philippines, a privileged girl in a mansion with servants. Her mother enjoys fine things, name brand clothing, while her father works hard to provide for them and her brother. The text is rich, lush, describing her world well enough that it's jarring to look up and realize you're not actually with her. That compelling narrative continues as the family's fortunes turn gradually, as the cracks in the mortar of a perfect life are exposed. Her mother goes from singing out words to teach a love of language to running away, fine items around them sold off to survive, and the mansion falling into disrepair. Yet the author still searches for whatever she can cling to for happiness, loving her pets as her father and brother leave, thriving on books as her mother turns to an abusive new lover. Without going into any spoilers further than the above, the perseverance and strength shown are both inspiring and sad. Reading this is a mix of sorrow for what this young girl experiences, and cheering her on to thrive. I'm glad for the epilogue of her current life, showing how she has retained the good from her youth while shredding the bad. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Promise me, you’ll always remember, none of this is normal. But we were not made for normal, and for that, I am sorry, my warrior girl,” Papa said. “Be brave, be smart, be kind, and have faith. Remember that you are made of light.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte (charandbooks)

    "My mother is a mansion [...] My mother is the land [...] My mother is the monsoon [...] Breaking into a million pieces. I was drowning in a monsoon of her." This memoir describes Cinelle Barnes' mesmerizing and painful childhood in the Philippines, driven to a large extent by the unstable personality of her mother and dysfunctional relationships within the home when an economic downturn and a monsoon flooding of their mansion leads to financial and social decline of the family. The flowery and o "My mother is a mansion [...] My mother is the land [...] My mother is the monsoon [...] Breaking into a million pieces. I was drowning in a monsoon of her." This memoir describes Cinelle Barnes' mesmerizing and painful childhood in the Philippines, driven to a large extent by the unstable personality of her mother and dysfunctional relationships within the home when an economic downturn and a monsoon flooding of their mansion leads to financial and social decline of the family. The flowery and overly poetic language that other readers have loved was quite difficult for me. I feel there were a pages and pages of descriptions for one rather unremarkable incident, whereas other dynamic and eventful periods of time were covered with a few sentences. That imbalance disrupted the reading rhythm for me and I had to put the book away for a few days before picking it back up and finishing it. The author herself says of the memoir that "You might feel like you're drowning a bit, but you'll breathe in the end" and although that is true, it didn't quite redeem the mental exhaustion I felt while reading it. However, the hardships Barnes had to overcome are multifold and humbling and I would recommend this for lovers of embellished prose and fiction-lovers who would like to venture more into non-fiction.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Buffy

    I’m still in awe of how beautifully the author penned this heartbreaking memoir. The craft is so amazing that at times I had to remind myself that I was not reading fiction..and those were the moments that rocked me to my core. I had the pleasure of meeting this author in an intimate author event setting and connected with her briefly afterwards for a short conversation. I hung on to her every word..amazing how resilient she is after all she has endured in her early life ...I see so much more co I’m still in awe of how beautifully the author penned this heartbreaking memoir. The craft is so amazing that at times I had to remind myself that I was not reading fiction..and those were the moments that rocked me to my core. I had the pleasure of meeting this author in an intimate author event setting and connected with her briefly afterwards for a short conversation. I hung on to her every word..amazing how resilient she is after all she has endured in her early life ...I see so much more coming our way..a brave new voice! I can’t wait for her next book! This one is definitely a must read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Monsoon Mansion is a powerful memoir of the author's experiences growing up in Manila. Parts of it read like poetry, parts like fairy tales, and some of it is imbued with great sadness. Cinelle's parents lived the high life in the Mansion in the 1980s.There were grand parties, dozens of maids, and the finest of everything. When all the money was spent, the mansion continued on, trapping Cinelle in a nightmare existence with her mother, her mother's lover, and a variety of motley characters. The h Monsoon Mansion is a powerful memoir of the author's experiences growing up in Manila. Parts of it read like poetry, parts like fairy tales, and some of it is imbued with great sadness. Cinelle's parents lived the high life in the Mansion in the 1980s.There were grand parties, dozens of maids, and the finest of everything. When all the money was spent, the mansion continued on, trapping Cinelle in a nightmare existence with her mother, her mother's lover, and a variety of motley characters. The history of Cinelle's father, before she was born, is fascinating. The depiction of Cinelle's mother is larger than life. You may not like her, but you will experience her as powerfully as Cinelle did. Monsoon Mansion reminded me of books written in the great style of magical realism. I loved it. It is a lullaby to her family's past and to her own strong warrior self as a little girl. No one could take away her light, no matter what. Who she is now comes from what she had to go through when she lived in Monsoon Mansion.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaytee Cobb

    This story feels unbelievable at times. Like, can this all have really happened? But Cinelle Barnes admits right at the beginning that, like most memoirs, some characters may have been combined and some details may have been changed, and childhood memory isn't always the most reliable, but this is a real memoir with real stories about her childhood in the Phillippines. And it doesn't disappoint in terms of drama, suspense, and even horror at the atrocities she faced growing up in a crumbling man This story feels unbelievable at times. Like, can this all have really happened? But Cinelle Barnes admits right at the beginning that, like most memoirs, some characters may have been combined and some details may have been changed, and childhood memory isn't always the most reliable, but this is a real memoir with real stories about her childhood in the Phillippines. And it doesn't disappoint in terms of drama, suspense, and even horror at the atrocities she faced growing up in a crumbling mansion as her parents fell from riches to despair. I found this read totally compelling, and wasn't really ready to let it go at the end.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christine Sorrell

    Mesmerizing and amazing! As an American born Chinese woman, this book touched upon so many facets of my own life, especially since I too have a mother who has been broken and made into a narcissist because of her family’s loss of prosperity due to her native country’s political unrest and turmoil. The author’s colorful and poetic description of the Philippines even reminded me of my upbringing in Malaysia. I too am living in the Carolinas after meeting my husband (an NC native) and feel a pull to Mesmerizing and amazing! As an American born Chinese woman, this book touched upon so many facets of my own life, especially since I too have a mother who has been broken and made into a narcissist because of her family’s loss of prosperity due to her native country’s political unrest and turmoil. The author’s colorful and poetic description of the Philippines even reminded me of my upbringing in Malaysia. I too am living in the Carolinas after meeting my husband (an NC native) and feel a pull to the ocean due to symbols of my past. I wish I could meet the author since she and I seem to have so many parallels in life right down to having a daughter born in 2011!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zeyn Joukhadar

    The bravest memoir I’ve ever read, MONSOON MANSION tells the story of Barnes’ finding her way through a labyrinth of hunger, pain, and cruelty during her childhood in the Philippines and yet still managing to find joy and kindness in those she came across, never losing herself along the way. The writing is gorgeous, luminous and self-assured, a first book from a writer who is sure to become a major new talent. Cinelle Barnes is made of light, a gentle warrior and a survivor, and it was an honor The bravest memoir I’ve ever read, MONSOON MANSION tells the story of Barnes’ finding her way through a labyrinth of hunger, pain, and cruelty during her childhood in the Philippines and yet still managing to find joy and kindness in those she came across, never losing herself along the way. The writing is gorgeous, luminous and self-assured, a first book from a writer who is sure to become a major new talent. Cinelle Barnes is made of light, a gentle warrior and a survivor, and it was an honor to read her story.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    A powerful memoir of neglect and abuse set in the Philippines.  The daughter of a cruel, narcissistic mother and a kind, driven, and ultimately absent father,  Cinelle Barnes grew up in a mansion in Manila. Her mother was the epitome of snobbery and entitlement, based upon the belief in her own birthright of class and inherited social standing. In her unstable mind, she deserved a life of luxury and the deference of her many servants. A stunning beauty, her vanity knew no bounds, with much of he A powerful memoir of neglect and abuse set in the Philippines.  The daughter of a cruel, narcissistic mother and a kind, driven, and ultimately absent father,  Cinelle Barnes grew up in a mansion in Manila. Her mother was the epitome of snobbery and entitlement, based upon the belief in her own birthright of class and inherited social standing. In her unstable mind, she deserved a life of luxury and the deference of her many servants. A stunning beauty, her vanity knew no bounds, with much of her day devoted to her makeup and fashion regimen. When the first Gulf War destroyed Papa's successful business, his wife no longer had any use for him and the marriage began to unravel. Monsoon Mansion is the story of the decline of the mansion itself and of the life of the family within. It starts out slow, but little-by-little, the madness and criminality of her mother and stepfather eat away at every bit of normalcy in Cinelle's life. The incredible strength and resilience of this young girl elevates her harrowing memoir, making it story of not just survival but of astonishing triumph. Highly recommended. I received a free copy of this book as my Amazon First Reads pick.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joann

    I won this Kindle book in a Goodreads Give-a-way. Thanks to all. This was a heart-breaking memoir of a young Pilipino girl who grew up in a wealthy family in a glittery mansion. Before long, there are problems in the mansion and "riches to rags" memoir is unfolding before her eyes. After a terrible monsoon devastates the mansion, the father leaves the country to try and make his fortune elsewhere. At this young and tender age, the author is basically on her own along with her brother. There is a I won this Kindle book in a Goodreads Give-a-way. Thanks to all. This was a heart-breaking memoir of a young Pilipino girl who grew up in a wealthy family in a glittery mansion. Before long, there are problems in the mansion and "riches to rags" memoir is unfolding before her eyes. After a terrible monsoon devastates the mansion, the father leaves the country to try and make his fortune elsewhere. At this young and tender age, the author is basically on her own along with her brother. There is a happy ending though and this is a book about forgiveness and how she forged a new life of her own.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Celia

    Cinelle Barnes lived a very dysfunctional childhood in Manila. Yet through this book and the love of her husband and mother-in-law she was able to rise above. Even though her mother was unstable (at best) Cinelle still is able to say: I owe my creativity, resilience, resourcefulness, and passion to them both—the very traits that make me a writer. My mother was brilliant and my father was ambitious, and I channeled much of their personas through the completion of this book. The book covers the time Cinelle Barnes lived a very dysfunctional childhood in Manila. Yet through this book and the love of her husband and mother-in-law she was able to rise above. Even though her mother was unstable (at best) Cinelle still is able to say: I owe my creativity, resilience, resourcefulness, and passion to them both—the very traits that make me a writer. My mother was brilliant and my father was ambitious, and I channeled much of their personas through the completion of this book. The book covers the time period between the early 80's til 2016. Cinelle is 3 when this memoir starts. This book does describe well what was happening in the Phillipines during these years. 4 stars

  25. 5 out of 5

    Teri Pardue

    An achingly beautiful memoir. Tracking Barnes’ story: a girl three years my junior growing up just kilometers away from my own home was fascinating and meaningful. I learned a little bit, but mostly I enjoyed getting lost in her lyrical prose and surreal imagery that so well captures elements of Manila life for many. “The water at the well smelled rich, not of chlorine, but minerals, the scent of a waterfall cutting through the stench of the ghetto’s imburnal—sewage canal. Water from the spout hi An achingly beautiful memoir. Tracking Barnes’ story: a girl three years my junior growing up just kilometers away from my own home was fascinating and meaningful. I learned a little bit, but mostly I enjoyed getting lost in her lyrical prose and surreal imagery that so well captures elements of Manila life for many. “The water at the well smelled rich, not of chlorine, but minerals, the scent of a waterfall cutting through the stench of the ghetto’s imburnal—sewage canal. Water from the spout hit the bottom of buckets and jugs with a slosh that warped us out of Metro Manila and into the beaches of Siargao, Boracay, and Palawan, the hem of the Pacific I’d never seen.”

  26. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Namkung

    An incredible, lyrical story of surviving a tumultuous childhood inside a storied mansion that explores colonialism, class, filial piety, mental health, and resilience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is an interesting book. Passages are very descriptive and sometimes feel idyllic and magical. I don't want to give away the story, but the author was a very brave little girl. Recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay (nerdybooknurse)

    Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes is a memoir about her experiences growing up in the Philippines before she immigrated to America. I read this as part of an Instagram buddy read for the Fierce Females Book Club that I am a part of where we read a book each month written by a female author. Cinelle's father worked hard and made millions early on and they settled into a large mansion named "Mansion Royale". She grew up accustomed to a home with endless bedrooms and a staff to accommodate her every Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes is a memoir about her experiences growing up in the Philippines before she immigrated to America. I read this as part of an Instagram buddy read for the Fierce Females Book Club that I am a part of where we read a book each month written by a female author. Cinelle's father worked hard and made millions early on and they settled into a large mansion named "Mansion Royale". She grew up accustomed to a home with endless bedrooms and a staff to accommodate her every need. Slowly the money starts to run out and her mother is forced to give up some of her prized designer clothes, jewelry, tailors, maids and services. With the decline in money also comes an increase in her mother's anger and irrationality driving a further wedge between her parents. When a 40 day monsoon hits and floods the house, money becomes even more scarce. Her father leaves her and her brother with their mother at the mansion in an attempt to find ways to make money. Her mother soon finds a lover in Norman, an American monster who has his own ideas of how to make money and he turns Mansion Royale into a true house of horrors. This book sounded so good from the premise but was so hard for me to get into. The wording is incredibly lyrical, which I struggle with following as a reader sometimes. Cinelle's story is powerful and she experienced an incredibly traumatic childhood that no one should ever have had to live through. For lovers of incredibly descriptive prose you will probably really enjoy living in this world and experiencing her story.

  29. 4 out of 5

    BLS and QF

    Beautiful and poetic I really enjoyed this book, such beautiful prose, her writing feels almost poetic. The author brings to life her childhood in Manila and the fall of her family's wealth. Her story is written chronologically starting with her premature birth, weighing only 2 pounds, she managed to survive despite odds against her. So too will she survive tumultuous family dynamics between the loss of their social position and of her mother, father and brother. I was completely transported into Beautiful and poetic I really enjoyed this book, such beautiful prose, her writing feels almost poetic. The author brings to life her childhood in Manila and the fall of her family's wealth. Her story is written chronologically starting with her premature birth, weighing only 2 pounds, she managed to survive despite odds against her. So too will she survive tumultuous family dynamics between the loss of their social position and of her mother, father and brother. I was completely transported into her world. Very beautiful. Would recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Outstanding Barnes is in equal turns poetic, graphic, fantasical and gritty. She has bloomed from an exotic and chaotic childhood and adolescence into a gifted author. Her story so mesmerized me I read it in one day.

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