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Yes, this is, as I pointed out last week, one of those alliterative Tuesday memes. I was going to skip it to make room for the impromptu "B-week" festivities . . . only to remember that I have a really great B-book on my TBR shelf.
And the wrong timing of this post seems appropriate when I also recall that I had planned to read this book last March (for "Battlegrounds Month") but ended up not touching it at all.
The new deadline I've given myself is the end of July . . . because I have a Kiwi friend coming to visit in August, and I want to take her to see some of the historic ruins from World War II.
3 February - 3 March 1945
by Alfonso J. Aluit
They are dead now -- they are all dead now --
a horrible death -- by sword and fire. . .
They died with their house and they died with their city --
and maybe it's just as well they did.
They would never have survived the death of the old Manila.
And yet -- listen! It is not dead:
it has not perished! Your city -- my city --
the city of our fathers -- still lives!
Something of it is left; something of it survives,
and will survive, as long as I live and remember --
I who have known and loved
and cherished these things
-- Nick Joaquin, from Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino (An Elegy in Three Scenes)
There is a whole story behind my interest in this book; it all started last year, when I visited the island of Corregidor. (See The Last Day of School, the First Day of Summer.) It was a deeply moving visit that forever changed the way I look at my country and its history. (World history, too. I now completely understand why some amateur history buffs can be neck deep in World War II and still be able to say, "There was a war in Europe?" I mean, come on, the Pacific was where it was at!)
Almost immediately after that day trip, I knew I had to learn more. And I started in the Philippine History section of my favourite chain store, which is where I ran into this book.
Although it wasn't the story of Corregidor that I wanted, it was a close second to what I was looking for. The bombing of Manila has haunted me ever since I read The Manila We Knew, a collection of essays about a city that is as lost as Troy, although it remains on every map of the world. (See my non-review and related Locus Focus post.)
It didn't hurt that the first blurb on the back was from my favourite Filipino writer of all time, Nick Joaquin:
A season in hell is what's offered by this panorama of suffering and inhumanity, the most agonising account I have read of South Manila's 1945 ordeal. What a labour of resarch must have gone into this reportage. Whenever an episode has you feeling you have discerned the limits of man's capacity for pain, another episode comes up with an even grislier example of the brutality of men at war. Alfonso Aluit is to be hailed for telling it as it was. His is unquestionably the history book of the year.
You might have noticed that the epigraph is taken from one of Joaquin's poems. He has also written an account of our old, lost capital: Manila, My Manila.
I was so sold . . . but I didn't have enough on me at the time to buy it. Reluctantly putting it back on the shelf and consoling myself with the thought that there wouldn't really be much demand for a 420-page History book with tiny print, I resolved to return as soon as possible (like, you know, General Douglas MacArthur =P).
And of course, when I did, the book was gone!!!
The really rich part was that I couldn't remember either the title or the author's name! (Book Buy Fail!) This is what the poor, befuddled saleslady had to put up with when I finally called her over:
"I'm looking for the book that was right here"--pointing at the empty spot on the shelf--"It's a red book . . . I think . . . and it's about the bombing of Manila. The pages are newsprint, so it was definitely published locally. Do you know which book I mean?"
You might have noticed that I even got the colour wrong. =P The saleslady tried, but the store's system didn't let you search by cover palette or country of publication. It was with a heavy heart that I dragged myself home. I really never expected to see the book again.
Fast forward a few weeks, when I found myself back in the same store and wandering past the same section. I hadn't intended to stop, but a familiar cover, in the very spot on the shelf I had indicated to the saleslady, caught my eye. I rushed over. It was the book! I grabbed it immediately, nearly ran to the cashier, and left the store guarding my new purchase with my life. I don't remember what other book I originally went to the bookstore for that day, but who freaking cares???
I have read the Prologue, at least, which is about the aforementioned General MacArthur and why the Philippines was his "destiny," and have scanned certain other sections. It was while I was doing that that a very thin piece of paper fell out, onto my lap. It was a receipt--one from the cafe connected to the bookstore. And the date on the receipt was the date I had gone back for the book and found it gone!
The story is pretty clear. Someone else had been reading the book in the store--in the cafe, to be exact--and had left the receipt to mark his place. And although the book was only a few pesos more expensive than the cup of coffee he had bought, he obviously preferred to be sure of the caffeine fix rather than sure of the story. I wonder what he thought when he returned to the shelf and and found it gone . . .
I hope he remembered the title and author's name. Bwahahahahahaha!
Image Source: By Sword and by Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February - 3 March 1945 by Alfonso J. Aluit