Rows of orange people sit handcuffed in a beige room. One of them is my mother.
When journalist Annabelle Tometich picks up the phone one June morning, she isn’t expecting a collect call from an inmate at the Lee County Jail. And when she accepts, she certainly isn’t prepared to hear her mother’s voice on the other end of the line. However, explaining the situation to her younger siblings afterwards was easy; all she had to say was, “Mom shot at some guy. He was messing with her mangoes.” They immediately understood. Answering the questions of the breaking-news reporter—at the same newspaper where Annabelle worked as a restaurant critic––proved more difficult. Annabelle decided to go with a variation of the truth: it was complicated.
So begins The Mango Tree, a poignant and deceptively entertaining memoir of growing up as a mixed-race Filipina “nobody” in suburban Florida as Annabelle traces the roots of her upbringing—all the while reckoning with her erratic father’s untimely death in a Fort Myers motel, her fiery mother’s bitter yearning for the country she left behind, and her own journey in the pursuit of belonging.
With clear-eyed compassion and piercing honesty, The Mango Tree is a family saga that navigates the tangled branches of Annabelle’s life, from her childhood days in an overflowing house flooded by balikbayan boxes, vegetation, and juicy mangoes, to her winding path from medical school hopeful to restaurant critic. It is a love letter to her fellow Filipino Americans, her lost younger self, and the beloved fruit tree at the heart of her family. But above all, it is an ode to Annabelle’s hot-blooded, whip-smart mother Josefina, a woman who made a life and a home of her own, and without whom Annabelle would not have herself.
About the Author
Annabelle Tometich went from medical-school flunky to line cook to journalist to author. She spent eighteen years as a food writer, editor, and restaurant critic for The News-Press in her hometown of Fort Myers, Florida. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, Catapult, the Tampa Bay Times, and many more publications. Tometich has won more than a dozen awards for her stories, including first place for Features Writing from the Florida Society of News Editors in 2020. She (still) lives in Fort Myers with her husband, two children, and her ever-fiery Filipina mother. You can find her online at annabelleTM.com.
“The Mango Tree is a story about a life spent focused on finding your place in the world, only to discover yourself instead. To oldest daughters who have raised siblings and those in need of an honest look at the pain and humor in complicated family love, Annabelle Tometich has written the book you've been waiting for.”—Minda Honey, author of The Heartbreak Years
“The Mango Tree introduces us to a debut author ready to bend our understanding of Florida, Filipino American life, and motherhood. Witty, humorous, and heartfelt, Annabelle Tometich's unflinching memoir is a welcome and necessary addition to contemporary Asian-American literature. Tometich fills the need for a book that is so readable, so nuanced in its storytelling, and so forgiving in its portrayal of an overburdened, culturally isolated immigrant mother making a life for herself and children. Many times, I saw myself as the narrator and, more unexpectedly, as her mother. That's a sign to me of a book written with a keen eye and an open heart. This will be a gift to Filipinos and Filipino Americans everywhere.”—Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion and Malaya: Essays on Freedom
"Smart and compelling, funny and devastating, The Mango Tree gets to the heart of what matters—our relationships with our families, our world and ultimately ourselves. This is the kind of memoir that stays with you long after the final page."—Artis Henderson, author of Unremarried Widow
“With candor, curiosity, and humor, Annabelle Tometich, a self-proclaimed ‘nobody,’ peels away the stories behind the stories to find the seed of truth about her family, typically American in some ways and unique in others. Full of humor, sharp observations, and a beating heart, The Mango Tree is an entertaining must-read.”—Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers
"Hoy! In this rollicking memoir, food writer and critic Tometich introduces us to the chaos that is her Fort Myers, Florida, childhood. From her BB-gun-wielding mom to the extended relatives from the Philippines who pass through, it proves the point that all families are a little wild!"—Curtis Chin, author of Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant