15 June 2014


Option 26: Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar, translated by Mikael de Lara Co and Sasha Martinez
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

. . . Daniel had decided that he was going to write about Atisan and he was in the process of creating characters for his novel . . .

Slowly, the main character in his novel began to take shape. Arcangel. Despite the fact that they were the same age (even though he was never specific about the age in his notes), and like him, Arcangel took up Psychology in college, Daniel never admitted, even to himself, that he was Arcangel.

Arcangel was his creation. And a creation and its creator can never be one and the same. He ignored the many instructions about creating a character. He skipped the part about describing Arcangel physically. He tried so hard to convince himself then that this was not important.

As you can see, I have completely dropped my rule against offering translations in the June Giveaway. Caveat lector . . . and let's leave it at that.

While I was still in the middle of Eight Muses of the Fall, someone asked me what it was about. I said, "Well, it starts with the main character being pushed off a cliff, and I think you spend the rest of the novel learning how he got there, who pushed him, and what happens next." Having now finished it and forgotten whom I was talking to (which, if you've read the book, you know really figures), I wish I could go back in time and say, "It has a main character wants to write a novel and it was written by a novelist who seems fascinated by the possibility that he himself is a character in someone else's story."

You know I like to quote my favourite professor's opinion that "every good novel is about its own writing," but now I think that I may have stumbled upon the exception.

Daniel was in second grade when he first came up with a story. A story that, he thought then, was entirely believable. He doesn't remember exactly when he told the story, or to whom. But it was in the second grade when his classmates started talking about Daniel, the kid with a duwende, a magical dwarf, for a friend . . .

Take away all the postmodern "meta" passages which bookend the scenes, and you'll have the makings of a dramatic novel infused with Philippine folk symbolism. Daniel will be a storyteller not because Edgar Calabia Samar is a storyteller, but because he has had to make up stories in order to fill in all the holes in his own life. And being an imaginative boy, he fills them up with figures from local folklore: magical dwarfs, vampiric monsters, mermaids, and of course, the diwata or nature's muses. As he gets older, ancient origin myths, vague local legends, and even odd weather patterns become interwoven so closely with his own personal history that the symbols start to seem one with what they signify . . . until he finally uncovers the whole truth about his father and mother.

Now there's a novel I'd like to read! And according to Eight Muses of the Fall, it's a novel that also exists. Somewhere. All stories exist somewhere, the occasional third person narrator assures us. Right now, we're reading a story in which Daniel is led astray by a tiyanak (that is, a vampire baby), but out there is another story in which a tiyanak is led astray by a young man (named Daniel?)--and that second story is being told by someone named Arcangel, who, of course, is a figment of the first Daniel's imagination. So why are we reading this story and not that other one? Well, because Samar likes this sort of story. =P It's also a conservative bet that he based Daniel on himself the way Daniel bases Arcangel on Daniel's self--and that they both like Haruki Murakami. Whether the other Arcangel, who is writing the story about Daniel, also likes Murakami, is a thread left loose. 

What I like about Eight Muses of the Fall, I really like. Samar weaves folklore and realism together seamlessly, and scenes filtered through Daniel's memory work equally well whether we read them as actual encounters with magical creatures or just as his symbolic spin on non-magical things that happened to him. On the other hand, what I don't like about this novel, I'm going to make a real effort to avoid in the future. Surrealism and the rest of postmodern literature are just not for me. But if they happen to be your cup of tea, then I can recommend this book. 

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . a description of the story as J.D. Salinger and Haruki Murakami's Filipino love child totally piques your interest. 

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Image Source: Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar

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