Option 27: The Praying Man by Bienvenido N. Santos
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"They say the pan de sal is getting smaller and smaller," the President said, "and that's how those in the flour industry are trying to keep the price down."
"That can't be done with pills and medicines," Cris responded with a muted nervous chuckle.
"Of course not, but still . . ." then he paused.
Perhaps the President was worried about the charges of the opposition that adulterated drugs had proliferated in government hospitals and clinics since the present administration took over. Someone close to the administration had a monopoly on government pharmaceutical orders.
"Mr. President, I'll do more than that. I'll step up production of the necessary drugs for the depressed areas and donate them for the administration to distribute," Cris said, speaking with the incisiveness and conviction of a student reciting the pledge of allegiance . . .
Who says that medicines can't "get smaller" in some way when someone needs them to? The Praying Man may have been published in the 1970s, but the politics depicted here are hardly retro. My first memory of the flour industry's pan de sal trick is from four administrations after the one which banned this book. At first I thought the government's handling of the problem was something out of a George Orwell novel (Chocolate rations, anyone?); but now I see that we didn't have to look beyond our own literary canon: the "solution" was straight out of this Bienvenido N. Santos story.
Since I'm running behind, I'm not going to do a Character Connection post later this week on Cris "C.M." Magat, the "Praying Man" of the novel. But I will spotlight him here . . .
"Some of the articles about you touched me and made me proud of you. Like that interview in the Sunday Times Magazine . . . The interviewer asked why you chose drugs instead of steel or flour or gold or silver . . .
"Remember the story you told them about your mother dying of cancer? You were around her most of the time, giving her all kinds of medicine that didn't do any good . . . And you constantly stayed with her, putting lysol on the wound and watching her agonise. You felt there should be something to kill the pain. So after watching your poor mother writhe and scream in pain, you vowed to help make it bearable in a world where there'll always be pain. And I think you have succeeded in a way."
Cris had lost his appetite. He hadn't said any of those things. His public relations men had written the whole interview . . .
In Locus Focus #104, I incorrectly identified Magat as a "corrupt government official." He's more of a "corrupt pharmaceutical industry executive" whose company has a monopoly on all the medicines that the government needs to buy. [The earlier post has now been edited.] You see where this is going, right? Food and medicines may not be causing the current crises in my country--and I daresay, in your countries as well, dear readers--but the parallels to finance are close enough. Currency can "get smaller" much easier than medicine can.
Plus, the symbolism of drugs is perfect. When a country is sick, how can it expect to get better by taking substandard pharmaceuticals? And if you say that at least the medicines are plentiful and free, you've misdiagnosed the problem. Of course, in Magat's case, he's part of the problem. If this novel were being written today, he'd be a banker.
It's clear how Magat is preying on others to accumulate vast personal wealth, but the praying is a secret that he is too ashamed to let anyone know about. He keeps a medallion of the Virgin of Antipolo (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) tucked away in his billfold . . . right next to an "emergency" condom that he finds equally embarrassing. And we could say that he uses both in the same way: that is, medicinally--as if prayers and prophylactics were both pills you could just pop and trust to do the hard work of healing you or keeping you from harm. As you can see, there are some vital connections that he has failed to make.
While The Praying Man is already one of the best novels I will read this year, it badly needs a copyedit. There are also some plot points which strain my credulity a little. While I can accept that power-drunk and unethical millionaires would engage in some of Magat's leisure activities, the scenes feel like something out of a Sidney Sheldon novel--and that can only be a flaw in the writing itself. =( And there's a choppy quality to the whole thing that makes sense only when you learn that it was first published as a serial. Yes, it's far from perfect--but oh, does it get a lot of things right, thanks to a character who does a lot of things wrong.
You should choose this novel in the giveaway if . . . you like anti-heroes as much as you hate modern politics and you still miss seeing Walter White break a little bit badder each week.
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Image Source: The Praying Man by Bienvenido N. Santos