06 July 2016


Option #41: Salingkit: A 1986 Diary by Cyan Abad-Jugo
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Her cousin guided her through the mass of people on the highway . . . keeping a firm hold on her elbow. Then he stopped, and just some feet away was this scary-looking tank, and there were wreaths and wreaths of sampaguita on it, while some men in uniform walked around it. One soldier was talking to a nun, and they were eating sandwiches. Then a man with a cigar between his fingers stood on the tank to talk and people clapped , and Kuya Alan grinned and told Goro, "That's General Ramos."

He didn't look particularly tall or handsome, but when he spoke, Goro found herself listening with all her heart. The tank, the general said, had been sent to kill him and the people who surrounded him, yet now the tank was there to protect them. The soldiers, he said, could not bring themselves to shoot on their fellow Filipinos.

The people clapped, once more. Some wiped tears from their eyes . . .

You never want your book to be read after the F. Sionil Jose novel in the Shredded Cheddar Philippine Literature Giveaway . . . assuming, of course, that you've even heard of the Shredded Cheddar Philippine Literature Giveaway. =P But I think there's more than its unfortunate place in the reading order that makes me find Cyan Abad-Jugo's Salingkit more than a little amateurish.

Half diary, half third-person narrative, Salingkit would have fared better if told entirely in the first person: then anyone who criticised Kitty "Goro" Eugenio's voice could simply be reminded that she's "just" a fifteen-year-old girl. Which wouldn't be a bad thing: we need more people who were "just" themselves--rather than active political players--to remind us that they made history, too. It's good to have an account of Martial Law, People Power, and the latter's militant aftermath from someone who was so apolitical that she needs 80s British New Wave lyrics to flesh out her memories.

Bensy dragged [Goro] to the dance floor before she could protest. There was no way to back out. She did not want to make a scene and then be watched by all those people still crowded around their table. She was aware that she was dancing with a popular boy, a general's son. She tried to keep her ear for Martin Gore's voice singing in the refrain:

the grabbing hands, grab all they can,
all for themselves, after all . . .

She tried to remind herself that this boy in front of her was a Loyalist, a crony, and that he had probably taken part in all the grabbing . . .

Salingkit won't be the first book that will get readers looking up musical references on YouTube.com, but it may have the record with twenty-eight songs. Of course I knew all the Duran Duran singles (Ahem!), but I needed help with several from Depeche Mode. How interesting to learn that "my" New Wave song is actually Everything Counts--because, like Bensy, I'm related to a general who did well under Marcos, understood Marcos Pa Rin differently during the latter half of the 1980s, and can still make my friends ask me cautiously, "Are you a . . . loyalist?"

A direct question deserves a direct answer: no, I'm not . . . but I am someone who is unable to separate national drama from her own family's story and understands that you can't just cut people off and say something is over.

My personal "involvement" may be why I'm not impressed by those parts of Salingkit in which Goro is only history's "salingkitkit." (That is, a little "kitten" temporarily allowed to join the big "cats" in their game.) The first half of the novel, in which she "experiences" the rallies and demonstrations of 1986 by hanging out with her activist older cousin, feels built out of cliches--what you imagine someone would have gone through rather than what someone did go through. "Marcos vs. Cory" Fan Fiction, basically. Sentiment over substance. And Abad-Jugo seems to assume the reader already knows what famous landmarks like the Quirino Grandstand or Luneta Park look like, and doesn't describe them at all. It's kind of lazy.

The novel vastly improves in the second half, when the state of the nation stops upstaging Goro's search for her father (a possible political detainee), her feelings for a loyalist classmate, her schoolwork, her trips around the country, and of course, her love for Depeche Mode. That is, politics rears its head when relevant; but now Goro is not merely a salingkitkit, but an active agent in her normal sphere. Her involvement in the first loyalist coup d'etat feels real: she didn't just happen to be there like some historical Mary Sue, but had a reason and a realisation that were relevant both to the plot and to her own development. It's dramatic, suspenseful, and powerful--and the main reason Salingkit made it to the Giveaway Pool. I wish the entire novel had been like this.

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you really do freaking miss the 80s!

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Image Source: Salingkit: A 1986 Diary by Cyan Abad-Jugo

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