01 June 2012


Option 13: The Best of Lola Basyang by Severino Reyes
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information!)

One day, while Maria was washing clothes by the well, she heard someone calling her name. When she looked up she saw an alimango (a large crab). Maria was frightened, but the crab spoke kindly to her.

"I am your mother," said the crab. "I came to comfort you because I know how hard your life is with your stepmother." Maria was amazed. She looked around to see if anyone was watching before talking to the crab.

"My dear mother," she said. "I'm so happy that you've returned! Why did you leave me? You know that no one cared for me but you." And the young girl began to weep . . .

When I saw this illustrated anthology of Lola Basyang stories in the bookstore last month, I knew I would have to read it, to review it, and whether I ended up loving it or not, to offer it as a prize in Shredded Cheddar's annual June Giveaway. And I've just done that. =)

This anthology includes a note about the "modernization" of some of the stories, referring to the removal of lines containing "bias against gender or race." But if you think the collection has been completely bowlderized, then you'll have to think again. The very first story, Maria Alimango, a "Filipinised" retelling of Cinderella, begins when the main character's mother is still alive: she dies only after her husband has an affair with a crafty rival who convinces him to murder her! And we don't just hear about it secondhand: we get to watch the grim scene unfold and get an illustration to go with it!

Still interested?
Great! =D

I know I'm supposed to be "selling" this book, but I can't get over some of the more off-putting details that Filipino children apparently lapped up like chocolate back in the 1920s . . . In another story, for instance, a pregnant woman receives such a horrible shock that she gives birth prematurely to a dead baby. She is a very minor character but there is no way to take this awful event out of the story: they're both essential to the ending.

But my favourite crazy development is from the tale in which the hero, who is also a criminal, fakes his death by telling a bereaved father and mother that he will bury their eldest son, and then after they give him the body, shoots it in the forehead and turns it in with some "evidence" to prove that the corpse was the man whom the police want.

After I got over my shock at such a coldhearted violation of a Corporal Act of Mercy, I had another issue to grapple with. Until that point, I had every reason to think that the story was set in some generic version of the Middle Ages. So how did the protagonist come up with a gun???

Indeed, Severino Reyes's worldbuilding is the weakest weapon in his storyteller's arsenal. If he does not explictly say that certain stories were set in the Philippines (Manila, Visayas, Malabon, etc.), then they would appear to unfold in the same pseudo-European, pseudo-Medieval "Faerielandia" where his more ambiguously set tales do. It shouldn't be a huge issue, as these stories are in the European faerie tale tradition; but their selling point is their Filipino-ness . . . and if it weren't for character names, some place names, and the Filipiniana costumes in the illustrations, sometimes we wouldn't know that.

What more than makes up for this is Reyes's real strength: his delight in cleverness. His heroes are mostly quick thinking and witty--and he clearly has a soft spot for lovable, irreverent rogues. If you prefer the Trickster archetype to the more common Dragon Slayer sort, then you will find them in many of his stories: a precocious boy who makes his parents proud . . . a fearless son whose parents demand he leave home . . . a couple of thieves whose combination of ingenuity and lack of scruples means they get away with everything . . . and a couple of kings whose unusual ideas of governance means their subjects get away with nothing! If you don't like the moral of one story, you'll find another that balances it out. =P

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you really like clever folk tales from all over the world.


And I thought I'd make it easier on everyone by letting the Rafflecopter bilocate here as well as on the Giveaways page. Good luck! =)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Source: The Best of Lola Basyang by Severino Reyes

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