A Book Review: Sweet Haven

Lakambini Sitoy portrays the life of a multigenerational, Filipino family, punctured by a scandal, against the backdrop of colonial mentality and elitism in a small community in the Philippines in her debut novel Sweet Haven.

The story revolves around the Pastor family -- Daniel, Luth, Narita, Antonia, and Naia. When her illegitimate child, Naia, appeared in a malicious video,  Narita went back to her town from Manila where she worked to save her daughter from ignominy. As she probed into the case,  Narita faced the hard truths in her life --  lies, manipulation, and rejection of their authentic selves had been haunting her family, and discrimination and corruption had been pervasive in their community. She witnessed her family’s shameful fate after confronting convoluted circumstances they were in.

Lakamibini Sitoy is a respected Filipino writer whose work is also published in the US, the UK and Europe.  She also wrote two collections of short stories, Mens Rea (1998) and Jungle Planet (2005), both published in Manila. She received the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, UK in 2003. 

My Thoughts 


Even though Sweet Haven is a difficult read for me, I appreciate the writing prowess of Lakambini Sitoy in creating characters with depth, enhanced by their culture and environment.  Their unique characteristics intersect with some negative aspects of Filipino culture-- elitism and colonial mentality. 

The book illuminates the repercussions of Pastors’ bias for being highly educated and for anything Western (white skin, English language, imported products, and living and working abroad) that pushes them to a step higher in the social class. Consequently, they treat others who are below their class as second-rate people. 

Sitoy exemplifies this with a scene at a bank where Luth Pastor, the matriarch of the family, was standing at the teller’s counter when her toe was stepped on by the bank’s janitress who was sweeping the floor. Luth grumbled but the janitress, instead of saying sorry, muttered a phrase in the vernacular that is similar to the line “Who do you think you are?” The janitress was just doing her job and Luth could’ve stepped aside. Luth got back at the janitress with retorts in the native language and in English. She called the janitress a ‘dried-up Monkey’ and a ‘mail-order bride’.

Luth, who was an elementary school teacher,  had also wanted to live abroad but his husband, Daniel Pastor, a highly educated Filipino with a master’s degree and a doctorate degree in England and the United States of America,  had no desire to leave their town. Because of this, she hoped her daughters would take up nursing so they could work abroad. She was able to persuade her younger daughter, Antonia, to become a nurse even though she didn’t want to. Eventually, Antonia left for Finland to find her luck there. 

In the Philippines, it’s a sad truth that having fair skin is more advantageous. Even in the family, children with brown skin could experience discrimination. Narita suffered from being treated as inferior because of her brown skin. Her mother gave her fair-skinned sister, Antonia, more favor, which made Narita angry, insecure, and rebellious. She lived away from her family, working as a writer in a newspaper in Manila.  

Reading Sweet Haven was not a great experience for me. The plot is slow and contains familiar elements that are commonly present in Filipino drama movies and soap operas - a provincial girl searching for a better life in the Philippine capital, a rebellious daughter getting pregnant by a man below her family's standards, a rich boy harassing and abusing a poor girl, corrupt government officials getting involved in a case, and criminals getting away with their felonies. Besides having a common storyline, the writing style of Sitoy is difficult for me. Reading the book was like riding a vehicle on a road with many potholes. Some highfalutin words impeded smooth reading.

Nonetheless, this book is a wake-up call to address colonial and elitist mentality.  I couldn’t pretend this doesn’t exist in our psyche as Filipinos even these days. I just hope that we will be able to acquire a radically different mentality that strengthens our self-identity and self-efficacy. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you find the title of the book, Sweet Haven?

  2. How does Narita’s mother influence her?

  3. Because of the color of her skin, Narita experienced prejudice even from her mother. What are the consequences of this treatment on Narita’s life?

  4. What drives Antonia to take care of her sister’s daughter?

  5. How does Sitoy show elitism in Philippine society?

  6. What other aspects of Philippine society are described in the story? Do you agree with the way the author portrayed them? 

  7. Is the story well-placed? Why or why not?

  8. Is the book character-driven or plot-driven? 

  9. What can you say about the ending of the novel?

  10. What questions would you ask the author?

Further Information

Title: Sweet Haven)

Author: Lakambini Sitoy

Genre: Fiction

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anvil Publishing Inc.

Publication Date: January 1, 2015

Print length: 288 pages

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9712731952

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9712731952