02 July 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Eight

If you've been counting, then you'll know that this shouldn't be Take Fifty-Eight. There was no Locus Focus post last week--which means that this one should be Take Fifty-Seven. Yeah, I have a funny "story" about that . . .

You see, June is the only month I really set aside to read Filipino literature. And I only started doing that last year when I got that (absolutely inspired) idea for a Philippine Literature Giveaway. The chances of a "local book" getting featured on Locus Focus any other time of the year are dismal. Do I really want to shortchange these great books during the one month I actually pay attention to them???

When you're done reading this post, I hope you take a look at Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Seven, which I backdated into last week. There's even a little surprise at the end, thanks to someone who wrote her own "Foreign Shores" Locus Focus a few weeks ago and then forgot to link up. =P

"Foreign Shores" Wrap-up

In the two years I've been hosting this June Giveaway, I've featured twelve books which represent at least twelve different ways of looking at the Philippines. More, if you want to make each essay in The Manila We Knew (or even each short story in The God Stealer) stand alone.

Seven of these books inspired their own Locus Focus posts:

Locus Focus #4: Loob Bunga from Owl Friends by Carla M. Pacis

Locus Focus #5: The Escolta from The Manila We Knew edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio

Locus Focus #6: Number 75, Ortega Street from Barefoot in Fire: A World War II Childhood by Barbara Gamboa-Lewis

Locus Focus #8: St. Andrew's Convent from The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin

Locus Focus #55: Ifugao from The God Stealer by F. Sionil Jose

Locus Focus #56: The Grade School Building from The Secret by Lin Acacio-Flores

Locus Focus #57: The Cave from Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin

Predictably, eight of the twelve books are wholly or partially set somewhere in the capital or in the "greater Manila area." This is where all of Philippine history has been hinged for nearly 400 years, ever since the Conquistadors started pushing the Spanish colonial effort northwards, and it's been the "melting pot" of the country's different tribes, ethnic groups and religions for at least the past 100 years: it just makes sense for the more ambitious literature to be set here.

Of course, Manila sprawls so much that one could travel through several of the books and never visit the same places twice. Smaller and Smaller Circles is about the hunt for a serial killer who is preying on the children of the city's biggest slum. The Woman Who Had Two Navels includes a peek into the city's 60s-era jazz clubs, where the nightlife was most vibrant. The Secret is set in a convent boarding school. The God Stealer has one short story whose main character works in an advertising office that used to be a rich man's mansion. And so on . . .

And yet, like a city transplant missing his roots, I find myself wanting to make a case for the handful of rural settings that have made it in print.

Po-on traces the birth of the Philippines as a nation through the life of a single man: he is just not the expected Creole from Manila, but a humble farmer in the Ilocos region, which saw its fair share of historical turning points.

Owl Friends is a child-friendly look at what racial tensions exist in a nearly homogenous country: a rural resettlement village that makes neighbours out of "Malay" Filipinos and Aeta families.

The hero of Tall Story grows up in a poor village where people still believe in giants and there isn't enough money to give the basketball-crazy youths a proper court.

Banana Heart Summer
brings us to Bicol, where the food is spicy and the people can be read like recipes.

Rural areas are also most vulnerable to natural calamities, and accordingly, two of these stories give us volcanic eruptions and one has an earthquake that is central to the plot.

Finally, let us not forget the many exiles and expatriates whose lives form part of the Filipino narrative. Their stories are told, too: The Woman Who Had Two Navels is set mostly in 1960s Hong Kong, there are short stories in The God Stealer that take place in Spain and South Korea, and half of Tall Story unfolds in present-day London.

As for time settings . . . Well, I really should make a chart because some of the books sprawl over several periods, but I needed to publish this post several hours ago, so let me go with paragraphs again.

Po-on is set during the late nineteenth century, ten years of the revolutionary period that bridge the Spanish Era and the American Era. There are two characters in A Woman Who Had Two Navels who remember--and are still haunted by--the last days of the Spanish Era; their stories are told in long, dreamy flashbacks.

World War II and the years right before and right after make the most popular time setting. No wonder, perhaps: this was when we first mastered the language in which all these books were written. Barefoot in Fire and The Secret are children's books which take us from the outbreak of hostilities to the liberation--a time period we also "flash back" to in A Woman Who Had Two Navels. Finally, By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila is a painstaking recreation of the battle for Manila in February and March of 1945.

Most of the stories in The God Stealer take place in the 1950s: after official American recognition (and informal American disregard) of Philippine independence.

Banana Heart Summer is set in the 1960s--as is most of A Woman Who Had Two Navels.

Cave and Shadows is such a fascinating look at the 1970s that just this evening I actually said to someone who was nice enough to try anwering my questions about the political situation of the decade, "You can't help me. You're not old enough to remember." (Sometimes I have no manners.)

Smaller and Smaller Circles and Tall Story are contemporaries--but very different ones.

And that concludes my very first Locus Focus wrap-up post! Why not do one of your own, if you like--especially if you have enough Locus Focus entries of your own to try a kind of "retrospective"? =)

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

Image Sources: a) Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin, b) Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis, c) Adventures of a Child of War by Lin Acacio-Flores


Kate said...

This is so interesting! I have to admit that I'm really shamefully ignorant of Philippine history and culture. It sounds like I need to read some of these books.

Kate said...

(Oh yes, and my post is backdated too :)

Enbrethiliel said...


No need to be ashamed! =) I'm halfway across the world from where you live--and I have "localist" cultural sympathies myself.

But if you do talk yourself into reading one of these, there's still time to enter the giveaway! ;-)

By the way, next week's Theme Challenge is Distant Isles--but any island will do! No need for it to be "distant" when I'm just playing with names.

PS -- Backdating seems to be the latest thing, aye? =P

Lesa said...

Yay, a retrospective! I'm trying to play catch up and this helps a lot.

Just the thought of all the literature from all over the world that I've never even heard of is boggling my mind!!

Enbrethiliel said...


You can also check out the Giveaway post to see the six new books I added. =)

I'm so glad to see you again, by the way! *hug*

Lesa said...

Thanks! Glad to be back-- I missed hanging out at Shredded Cheddar but the catching up is tough. Are you always so prolific or did you just have a bloggy binge while I was out of commish? ;o)

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL! June just happens to be this blog's busiest month, thanks to that June Giveaway idea. Most months, I write about books I've already read and take my sweet time getting to the new ones; but in June, I challenge myself to read as many books by Filipino writers as I can. And then, of course, I have to promote them, too. =P (Which explains how all those new reviews got here!)

I'm glad I was able to match last year's record of four new books and two rereads. =) I still have a couple of related posts to finish, but after I'm done with them, I'll be taking things easy! ;-)