NO ONE can escape from the past. No matter how one hides, it has a way of coming back.

A sad, dark, and compelling tale, Black Hearts, written by Filipino-Australian author Arlene J. Chai is about the weakness and shortcomings of the human heart. It deals with complex family issues and intrigues like Chai’s previous bestsellers, The Last time I saw Mother, Eating Fire and Drinking Water, and On the Goddess Rock.

Chai’s novel is about two sisters—Christina, the speaker-narrator, and Serena Hidalgo—and their possessive and overbearing grandmother, Doña Constancia Medina Aragon.

Willful and rebellious, Christina leaves Casa Aragon, her childhood home, to escape from Doña Aragon’s tyrannical clutches. But fate draws her back to the mansion she deserted six years ago and which she has inherited from her grandmother. Seeing this legacy as a means of getting back at her manipulative sister Serena, Christina returns to claim the house.

Christina then recalls how their grandmother took over their lives.

The night their parents died, the young Christina and Serena were taken by their abuela or grandmother. Scared and confused, the two sisters clung to each other for comfort. But this closeness faded with time because of Doña Aragon’s scheme to pit the two against each other by making them compete for her affection.

As teenagers, the gap between the two worsened. Serena, being the beautiful and obedient granddaughter, was the favorite. She was showered with gifts and attention by their domineering grandmother while Christina was often ignored. At first she was not affected when Serena always got everything she wanted. Until Serena took away Christina’s boyfriend, Vincent Dominguez.

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Shocked and humiliated, Christina left home and turned her back on everyone.

The story teems with mysteries and intrigues. The first few chapters starts in a leisurely pace, but as the story progresses, the suspense heightens. A feeling of anticipation rivets the readers’ attention, proof of Chai’s well-crafted storyline. The story unfolds through flashbacks. The clever use of symbolic objects, like the Medina mirrors, enables a smooth and effective transition between present and past.

It is very easy to get drawn to the story. Chai vividly describes Casa Aragon as a sprawling mansion filled with exquisite and priceless objects. It represents how possessive Doña Aragon is—her propensity of owning and


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