Monday, December 28, 2009

Jose Dalisay's Soledad's Sister: a cold corpse from Jeddah

You march into a bookstore—any bookstore, even second-hand ones—and you wonder where the Philippine literary section is. Usually, it's there: a miniscule compared to the vast array of shelves of books imported from abroad. It's a sad sight. The books don't look as glossy or pretty as their international competitors. They don't even get as much publicity as, say, the release of a book series about glittering vampires. You'd think they're just there because some student from college would buy it for his required reading. The books, too, are mostly compilations of stories or essays of people you've barely even heard of, except of course if you studied in UP and paid close attention.  There aren't even enough novels to choose from.

I was too excited to read Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay. A breath of fresh air, I'd call it.  The novel reeks of everything Filipino without sounding like Noli, a contemporary look into Philippine society without sounding too scholarly, too historical. Light and hilarious, it's a story about living—and dead—people who actually move within our midst.

A casket from Jeddah arrives at Ninoy Aquino International Aiport. It bears the name of Aurora V. Cabahug, one of the six hundred or so bodies of OFWs being sent back to the country as cold corpses. The real Aurora (or Rory), however, is still alive, singing in a bar in the remote town of Paez, dreaming of somehow making a singing career in Manila. A policeman from Paez, SPO2 Walter Zamora, himself having his own personal issues (his wife left him for England, taking away their child with her), takes on the case, accompanying Rory to retrieve her sister's body back for a proper burial. The novel reaches its climax when, on their way back, the body gets stolen.

One would say that the novel has too many details, but it is precisely these that make this literary work heartwarming. You'll laugh at how one family came all the way from Pangasinan, almost the entire clan at that, to retrieve the body of a close relative. You'll be amused at how seriously the people in a municipal jail take their chess games seriously. You'll scratch your head in finding out the historical origins of a karaoke bar (a librarian decides to leave her school to continue her dead husband's legacy, this time hiring sexier women for the job). You'll agree at the descriptions of Bagumbayani, a subdivision built in phases, each phase named after a cluster: "heroes in Phase I, saints in Phase II, and flowers in Phase III."

Although I admit that I love this book (and a lot of people do, considering this was one of the finalists of the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize), I could only wish there were more of these available—novels that are about everyday things in the country, things we can relate to.

But, being part of the reading public, I can't put the blame on the writers or publishers alone. Part of this problem of lack of published contemporary novels is that we're not reading or buying enough of our own. There's simply no demand. It's about time we create one.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

kuya lance! looking forward to your "looking back" entry for 2009... i read your previous looking ack entries. :P mike

Wed Dec 30, 04:18:00 PM GMT+8  
Blogger Lance said...

Wow, Mike. Wala ka gid maubra, no? I made a recap video, for a change. Check it out. :D

Sat Jan 02, 04:36:00 PM GMT+8  

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