When I started my research for Under the Sugar Sun, I spent a lot of time in the microfiche room at Ateneo de Manila looking through the Manila Times. At first, I did not know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I suppose—and I found it in a real article entitled, “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name Is E.L. Evans and He Is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” The sister’s letter had been mis-delivered, and the recipient sent it on to the newspaper as a last-ditch effort to find the missing brother. And thus the Ben Potter and Balangiga story line was born. (And I know you don’t like him yet. You are not supposed to. But just wait. Sugar Moon is coming, and I think Ben will change your mind.)
Back in 2011, I rewrote the original article for Georgina and Ben. Yes, I was writing the book that long.
Now, you cannot totally blame Georgie for being worried. These were the real headlines from the Boston Daily Globe about what happened to his unit:
Disaster in Samar. American Troops Surprised at Balangiga. Forty Officers and Men Killed by Insurgents. Company C 9th Attacked While at Breakfast.
Death List. Names of Those Lost at Balangiga, Samar. Five of the Number Went from Boston to Philippines. Thirty-Five Killed and Died of Wounds. Eight Missing.
Nine Boston Men. Seven of Them Were Enlisted Men, and It Is Feared They were All Among the Lost at Balangiga.
Wounded at Balangiga: Boston Loses One More.
Enlisted men’s families were not sent a telegram when their loved ones died. Only officers’ next of kin were offered that peace of mind. Georgie would have combed these articles and found all sorts of discrepancies, as you can read above. This is based on the truth. When I compared the newspaper lists against the Company C roster, there were lots and lots of errors. Even the early Army reports had errors—no surprise, since they were the ones who gave names to the reporters. It was enough to drive a confused family crazy.
And it did not help to read letters like the one below. This is a real letter by a private at Balangiga who, before he died, wrote to his family in Boston about the worsening conditions of his unit. His family let the newspaper print the letter in full, and I can just imagine what Georgina and her mother thought. I recreated the article so that I could edit it down to its most salient points, but it is taken from a real article on this date and in this newspaper.
This letter really defines Georgina’s obsession with finding and, ultimately, returning her brother to Boston. She didn’t know she was a romance heroine, after all. She thought her life more Gothic-style mystery, I suppose. But she will figure out the truth—after a calesa ride or two!