Option 4: Po-on by F. Sionil Jose
(See the details of this contest/giveaway.)
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Your Reverence, we have often prided ourselves in our sense of history. Indeed, history should be kind to us for we have not been remiss in our tasks. But our service was not always tempered with wisdom.
We know that we are not going to be here forever, that the institutions we are building can only last for as long as they are cared for by Indios themselves. And I worry that they will not care for these nor will they bother to strengthen what we leave them if they don't see these--our ministrations and the Church--as theirs.
It cannot be otherwise; these institutions are in their land although we transferred them from a distant peninsula . . .
This week, the two "options" I will be featuring are unusual choices for the same reason: they are much easier to find in international bookstores. Po-on, in particular, has been translated into other languages (including, interestingly enough, Filipino itself, since it was originally written in English). Just be aware that it has a different title abroad: Dusk.
So to sweeten my own deal, Option 4 shall include short biographies of the four national heroes mentioned in this novel (two of whom get significant supporting roles). These biographies are the simple kind written for children, but they're good enough for an adult reader encountering these figures for the first time. How is that? =)
Genre: Historical Fiction. The first book in what is called Jose's "Rosales Saga"--an epic journey through almost 100 years of Philippine History.
(I don't read non-YA Historical Fiction very often, but I think I'll be going through the entire "Rosales Saga" now. I want to see the more of the Philippines' past through Jose's eyes.)
Setting: The Ilokos region and the Cordillera mountain range. A settlers' village called Po-on and another called Cabugawan. Tirad Pass. The last few years of Spanish colonial rule and the first few months of American aggression.
(This novel has helped cement my understanding of the forest as the native Filipino's primordial home. In the Philippines, civilisation began with the kaingin, the burning of swaths of forestland in order to clear space for settlers, and the story is speckled with many such settlements. My copy comes with a map, and if the winner of this contest/giveaway wants a copy of this one, too, I shall make sure that it is similarly illustrated. History and geography are, after all, the time-side and the space-side of the same coin of civilisation.)
Premise: A small Ilokano clan must flee its homeland after one of its members murders a Spanish priest (who admittedly had it coming), and learn to set down roots somewhere else. Meanwhile, Spanish rule loses its grip as Revolution brews in the south and the expanding American empire marches in.
(This story of a small community's struggle to carve a village out of forestland is quintessentially Filipino. What makes the Salvador clan extraordinary is the young man who becomes their leader and who has not just a sense of duty to family but also a sense of destiny for the emerging nation.)
Characters: A young man from the peasant class whose education at the hands of a Spanish priest raises him to the rank of ilustrado. His father, still angry and bitter after losing a hand to "Spanish justice." His two brothers--one a farmer tied to the land, the other a wanderer drawn to the mountains. A mysterious young woman sundered from her own people. An Ilokano clan which sticks together at all costs. A mountain tribe straight out of legend. A mestizo landlord sympathetic to the Revolutionary cause. The Sublime Paralytic and the Boy General.
(As with all worthwhile historical epics, the figures who dot the landscape have real three-dimensional integrity even as they are also emblems of the significant groups sharing a single cross-section of space and time. I include in this assessment the kind Spanish priest and the bright-eyed American imperialist. ButI was most impressed by the "cameos" by two national heroes, whom Jose writes of as if he had met them. One is as worthy of Europe's empty Enlightenment as I had always thought him and the other is even more arrogant and smug than I even dared to think.)
Theme: The birth of a nation and the awakening of its citizens. The meaning of suffering and the will of God. And always, the land--and the question of who is to inherit it.
(These themes are not new to me and yet they bowl me over in their intensity in this novel. They also call to my blood in a way that makes me wonder whether they could also move a non-Filipino reader. Then I remember that Jose is the most translated--and therefore, most read--Filipino writer in the world. These themes are not merely national, but universal . . . as all truly powerful themes are.)
Image Source: Po-on by F. Sionil Jose
(This review is linked up on a Book Review Party Wednesday post!)