06 June 2012


Option 14: Ermita: A Filipino Novel by F. Sionil Jose
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

"What makes you sad? That you lost your virginity? That you are now in a bog and you cannot free yourself?"

How aptly he had put it! But it was not just the loss that crosssed her mind . . .

"My family resents what I have done," she said sadly, turning away from his gaze . . .

"This always happens. They will get used to it. Give them time, Ermi," Rolando Cruz said . . .

"You mean, people get used to the dirt after some time and they don't mind it anymore?"

"Don't think of yourself too harshly. You may just as well ask me why I come here . . . Everyone who comes here contributes to this illusion--that here is prosperity, the gracious life, good conversation . . ."

The above exchange between Ermita Rojo and Rolando Cruz takes place over dinner at Camarin, one of the city's poshest restaurants, which doubles as a "storehouse" for some the city's most beautiful prostitutes. And "Ermi" is the most beautiful--and most expensive--of them all.

But Ermita by F. Sionil Jose is not the story of a single extraordinary sex worker; it is a novel about the many different kinds of prostitutes, most of them quite prosaic, who make up modern Philippine society. You don't have to be selling sex to be a whore.

. . . Miss Honorato [the English Lit teacher] explained the human dilemma as depicted in literature. Prostitution is used not just as a social commentary but in a deeper sense, a symbol of social malaise, of the hypocrisy that has always pervaded the affairs of men . . .

. . . And it is this conflict between basic morality and the so-called prevailing values of society which has compelled the writer to look at it not just as human conflict but as conflict between values, the real and the unreal, the truth versus the false.

"In other words," Ermi wanted clarification. "If prostitution is going to be defined, it means doing something for a fee but without any conviction or belief."

I hope you were paying attention in Ermi's class, because her definition of prostitution is also Jose's. And he is merciless about exposing those who use the camouflage of wealth, social status, reputation, or good behaviour to hide the fact that they, too, are for sale to the highest bidder. 

There is the corrupt senator who just may be president someday . . . the high ranking military officer who is the current president's butcher . . .  the decadent and decrepit entrepreneur . . . the glamourous socialite whose charities are as numerous as her affairs . . . the History teacher turned public relations specialist (A classic Jose character!) . . . basically everyone who feels free to act as if he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong . . . which is to say, basically everyone who has wielded power in Philippine society since the end of World War II. It just takes a literal prostitute to put them all in perspective.

Ermita Rojo gets her first name from what used to be the most genteel district of Manila. The scene of some of the worst atrocities by Japanese troops--countless cold-blooded massacres, tortures, and gang rapes--it never really got over the war. When the rebuilding began, the surviving Ermita families moved to a new suburb outside of the capital . . . and their old home slowly rotted into the seedy red light district it remains today. Both the real-life area and this larger-than-life character embody the downward spiral of Philippine society--especially interesting in Ermi's case, since she herself seems to be rising in the world.

"How much," Jose seems to ask the reader, "would you be willing to sell--to betray--to have whatever it is you want?" But he knows the question comes too late and does not wait for a reply before making his verdict, which is that if the reader is a modern Filipino, then the reader is probably already a whore.

It is only early June, but I think I have my verdict: Ermita by F. Sionil Jose is going to be the best book I read in 2012.

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you have ever asked yourself what the heck your country's problem is, but never considered that it might be you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTA BENE: Today manages to be a Westlife Wednesday on Shredded Cheddar as I announce that Round 1 of the Westlife UK #1 Singles Smackdown has been extended for another week. And if you check the Rafflecopter, you'll see that you can get one giveaway entry for voting in the smackdown and two giveaway entries for referring someone else to it. And you can refer one person per day. (Now where is the "evil smile" emoticon when I need it? LOL!)

Image Source: Ermita by F. Sionil Jose


MrsDarwin said...

This one sounds intriguing. It's my pick.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for entering the giveaway, Mrs. Darwin! I don't know if Ermita will top Po-on for you, but I guarantee that if it doesn't, it will still come very close. =)

PS -- I will probably literally weep with joy and gratitude if you vote in the Westlife smackdown, too.

MrsDarwin said...

Okay, I done it just for you.

Enbrethiliel said...


I feel so deeply loved!

*weeps with joy and gratitude, as promised*

PS -- Remember that you get a point for that on the Rafflecopter! =D