The Thomasite (April 2023)
Literary Historical Fiction
Victoria Grageda-Smith was born in the Philippines, the eldest of ten children in a family of humble means. Through full academic merit scholarships, she graduated Magna Cum Laude in her pre-law class and ranked among the top of her law class at The College of Law, University of the Philippines. She also earned a Master of Law degree from The University of Michigan School of Law. She served as associate counsel in a large, prestigious Manila law firm before becoming the only female attorney in the twenty-five-lawyer legal department of one of Southeast Asia’s oldest global corporate conglomerates. She was on track to establish her own law firm when life threw the proverbial wrench at her well-laid plans: she met, fell in love with, and married an American, and moved to the US to build a life with him. The challenges of an immigrant having to start over in both personal and professional lives, plus motherhood sans her support network of Philippine family and friends amid her husband's frequent career-related travel, compelled her to choose to be the at-home parent. It was while raising their young children she rediscovered a childhood passion: creative writing. She wrote while doing laundry, cooking, and waiting for their children to get out of school, private lessons, sports, and other extracurricular activities, and after tucking them into bed. Now, she’s an award-winning author published in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
Her debut novel, THE THOMASITE, will be published and released by Orange Blossom Publishing in spring 2023. It’s a literary historical women’s fiction novel that evokes THE KING AND I meets WAR AND PEACE in US colonial Philippine Islands. She's also the author of the Driftless Unsolicited Award-winning novella, FAITH HEALER (Brain Mill Press, 2016). The first time she submitted to a nationwide short story writing contest, her story, “Portrait of the Other Lady,” won first place, including publication in a Los Angeles area newspaper (Ventura County Star, November 28, 2004). Her poems, some of which have been honored with distinction in poetry contests, are published by literary journals that include, among others, the Crosswinds Poetry Journal, New Millennium Writings, Reed Magazine, Lyrical Iowa, and Dicta (The University of Michigan School of Law literary journal). Her essay, “Gatekeepers and Gatecrashers in Contemporary American Poetry: Reflections of a Filipino Immigrant Poet in the United States,” appears in the anthology, OTHERS WILL ENTER THE GATES: IMMIGRANT POETS ON POETRY, INFLUENCES, AND WRITING IN AMERICA (Black Lawrence Press, 2015). She’s also the author of a new literary women’s fiction book manuscript, DAUGHTERS OF THE BAMBOO, a collection of Filipino American immigrant tales of love, dreams, struggles, and hope, and of THE ACCIDENTAL ITALIAN, a blended women’s fiction-romance genre novel manuscript. Among her works-in-progress are THE JAPANESE LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, a novel set during the Pacific War in World War II, and MOTHER OF EXILES, a poetry manuscript anchored on the theme of the Filipino diaspora and immigrant experience. Follow her in VictoriaGSmith.com, Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith, Instagram, and Twitter @AuthorVGSmith.
When Victoria isn’t writing, she likes to read or walk in the woods and on the beach with her husband, dogs, and their visiting children at their island home in the Puget Sound. Having imagined herself in her youth exclusively as a professional career woman working outside the home, she's surprised herself by being a happy homebody who, according to family and friends, is also a great, intuitive cook with a like talent and passion for home and garden design.
Amid the Philippine-American War in 1901, a young teacher from Iowa, Eleanor Karsten, sails on the US Army Transport Thomas to America’s new territory, the Philippine Islands. In response to President McKinley's call to help implement the policy of “benevolent assimilation of Filipinos,” she joins more than 500 US educators (the ‘Thomasites’) to teach Filipino children and build a secular public school system as an alternative to the Catholic educational institutions established by Spanish colonial rule.
A stopover in the Hawaiian Islands and a brief residency in Manila, where the Thomasites await deployment to their designated school areas, awaken Eleanor to disturbing implications of America's expansionist policy. She eagerly welcomes her assignment to Magayon, home to the majestic, perfectly cone-shaped Mayon Volcano. When she arrives there, however, various challenges—including malaria, a cholera epidemic, insurrection, and racial and religious prejudice—test her resolve to fulfill her mission.
Her loyalties are likewise tested when she unwittingly becomes romantically entangled with a Spanish-Filipino plantation owner and his peasant foreman. Worse, Eleanor worries one of them could be the local leader of the insurrection, thus setting her at odds with the commanding officer of the US infantry stationed in town. Worst, she clashes with the parish priest.
As Eleanor witnesses the ramifications of the U.S. occupation of the Philippine Islands, she finds herself the student rather than the teacher. Caught between, on the one hand, her compassion for her students and Filipinos and, on the other, her patriotic duty to her country; her devotion to her vocation and her increasingly undeniable feelings for one of the men competing for her love; and the scorching battle between ideology and reality—Eleanor struggles to balance treading on a tightrope of volatile, interwoven interests and carve a path forward.
Would Eleanor survive the forces tearing her and her mission apart, including the people she’s come to love as her own? To whom would she finally entrust her heart? And what legacy would she and her fellow Thomasites leave for generations of Filipinos?