‘A Good Provider is One Who Leaves’


Jason DeParle, Viking, 382 pages, $28. In 1987, a young American reporter looking to write about life in a shantytown in the Philippines met Tita Portagana Comodas, a local matriarch who grudgingly agreed to rent him floor space in her shack on a mud flat near Manila Bay. That reporter, the veteran New York Times journalist Jason DeParle, stayed with Tita intermittently for eight months, developing a friendship with her and her family that spans 30 years and three generations. “A Good Provider is One Who Leaves” is a sweeping, deeply reported tale of international migration that hopscotches from the Philippines through the Middle East, Europe and eventually the United States — all through the eyes of Comodas’ family. The phrase “mass migration” conjures images of children crammed into holding centers at the U.S. southern border, or of refugees fleeing Syria and Congo, but the story of human movement is a far more complex one, full of contradictions and on a scale so vast that it is hard to comprehend. Often ignored are the humans who flow over these same borders — the very people who drive the global economies of the 21st century. DeParle’s understanding of migration is refreshingly clear-eyed and nuanced, acknowledging the need for laws governing immigration, but it never strays far from the Comodas family. For example, Tita’s husband, Emet, leaves for a job cleaning the pool at the Saudi Air Force base in Dhahran when daughter Rosalie is a young girl. Some two decades later she follows him into the booming Middle East economy of foreign labor.