Throughout the nearly 500 pages, the author circles and weaves, at times delectably close to and other times frustratingly distant from the trio at its center: two politically exiled sisters and the man they both love ... When Melvin dives deep into a scene, her prose is sumptuous and visceral; but we don’t stay in these illuminating spaces for long ... Melvin captures these physical aspects of life exquisitely ... As the narrative progresses, though, it fails to consistently illuminate the nuances of each character, as though it does not trust itself, or the reader. Moments of brilliant, evocative detail are watered down by pat phrases that feel like thematic voice over, and then, in case you missed the point, the narrator doubles down and shouts at you again ... Compared to Lali...Pilar and Arturo are less fully drawn ... Set up as the foil to her big sister from the beginning, Pilar never manages to entirely own her motives. Melvin flattens her and never allows the reader close enough to understand why she would fall so suddenly — at first in lust, and then in true love — with a corrupt man who is the father of her sister’s child. Arturo’s chapters are similarly frustrating; and the soap opera-esque twists and turns of the plot (hidden pregnancies, child prostitution) feel like embellishments that only serve to distract from the fascinating themes, both political and personal, that Lali unearths.
Melvin’s sweeping family saga is a fascinating exercise in family dynamics as they are inextricably linked to worldly politics, power, and privilege. The Philippines is depicted as a country gone mad with revolution, and, as a politician, Arturo is caught up in its midst. His point of view is presented along with that of the two sisters, shedding light on a complex mix of issues that encompasses familial and national politics. Beautifully plotted and written, The Betrayed is a striking work of fiction populated with fully realized characters who will live in readers’ memories.
Grounded in the turmoil of recent political, military, and economic life in the Philippines, Melvin’s characters grapple with moral dilemmas that grow increasingly complex as their story unfolds ... Melvin’s storyline mines recent (and not-so-recent) Philippine history and is delivered with a healthy dose of drama, conveying a milieu where superstition and folklore can be as controlling as the gaze of television cameras. Peppered with moments of cinematic violence, the account of a family in flux also challenges readers to determine how everything changed in the family’s dynamics. As the girls’ father once observed, life is determined by a series of subtle, perhaps imperceptible ruptures that can have enormous consequences ... Melvin deftly illustrates that family alliances may be as complicated as political ones.