The immigrant experience in America is kafkaesque; having to navigate systems with obscure and debilitating rules while maintaining any shred of dignity and humanity has shaped generations of Americans. The debut novel from Lysley Tenorio, The Son of Good Fortune, is a tale of this struggle, one that is unique in its relatability.
Excel, a young Filipino immigrant living in California, is unwillingly at the center of the story. He lives paycheck to paycheck with his mother, Maxima, who was a low-budget movie star in the Philippines. He works at a local pizza parlor, and she scams men online. Then Excel meets Sab, a girl who works at a cemetery flower shop, and the two run away to the desert together. When they reach Hello City, the two struggle to make a living, and after a fiery accident, Excel is forced back home so he can make enough money to pay the town back.
Tenorio, himself a Filipino immigrant, accurately and compassionately portrays the immigrant experience. From Excel’s and Maxima’s daily struggles for money to their fierce if unexpressed loyalty to one another, The Son of Good Fortune captures the lived experience of many new Americans. Excel and his mother face the world with only each other to lean on, and throughout the story, they are reminded of their link.
Despite it universality, The Son of Good Fortune doesn’t lack for originality. With the whimsical excitement of Hello City and the craftiness of Maxima’s online schemes, the story finds a witty voice and sets a unique tone. Despite the drudgery and harshness of immigrant life, Tenorio explores the humanity in the tribulations and creates characters who are as lovable as they are real.
With his debut novel, Tenorio excavates joy from the immigrant experience, though he does his best not to diminish the suffering. If you cannot relate to this story, you can certainly learn from it.