Synopsis of Joni Cham’s ‘In My Mother’s House’


In My Mother’s House is about the complicated love-hate relationship between a Chinese immigrant mother and her Philippine-born daughter. The novel starts as Nina comes back home to take care of her ailing mother after the mother is diagnosed with cancer. The situation forces Nina to return to a physical place where she is not comfortable—an oppressive house crowded with memories she has tried to flee from. Nina is once again confronted by her mother, a strong and dominating woman in her youth but whose very life now rests on the hands of her estranged daughter.

While many things have changed in the past decade, her mother’s house seems to have remained the same as on the day that she left. Nina herself is a different person that her mother almost does not recognize her. Interspersing a tragic past with the conflict of the present, Nina’s failings as a daughter, her strong bond with a brother, and ultimately the reason for the emotional distance between mother and daughter come to light.

Two people, equally strong-willed, are stuck in an enclosed space where each would exert her power over the other. One has the natural authority of age and motherhood, the other is armed with the realization that she no longer is the defenseless child she once was. Their present struggle pushes Nina to contemplate past conflicts, and finally allows her to come to terms with the person she has become.

In My Mother’s House is set in Manila, Philippines but is populated by ethnic Chinese characters. As such, the dialogues were a combination of Minnan Chinese, English, and Tagalog.

In My Mother’s House is published by Central Book Supply, Inc. for De La Salle University.

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