Monday, July 29, 2013

Ricky Lee's Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata: an aswang's messianic calling to save the Philippines from his/her kind


I EMBARKED on Ricky Lee's second novel, Si Amapola Sa 65 Na Kabanata, about a year ago, when I was bent on patronizing Philippine literature—contemporary or otherwise. Caught up with too much work, I set the book aside and was only able to finish it last Saturday, thanks to the cold and the rain and the awesome Rehab weekend.

The protagonist is a transvestite named Amapola who works as an impersonator in Timog and Tomas Morato. Clearly it's next to impossible to put down a novel that begins this way:

Sa labas, habang ang mga kababayan ko ay hindi pa nakaka-recover sa sunod-sunod na bagyong pinasimulan ng Ondoy, ako, sa loob ng High Notes sa kanto ng Timog at Morato, ay naka-split sa stage, ini-impersonate si Beyoncé, kinakanta ang If I Were A Boy, theme song ng mga tomboy.

Amapola, we later learn, is an aswang of the manananggal variety. At night her body is cut in half. Wings grow out of her back, and she flies up in the air, searching for food: human flesh and blood. We discover that there are two kinds of manananggal—the good kind only feeds on animals, the bad ones (tunggab) are hell-bent on devouring human beings, particularly unborn children inside their mothers' uteri. Amapola, the protagonist, belongs to the former.

The richness of Amapola's character doesn't end there: he has a multiple character disorder. Amapola is often found talking all by himself, when he is merely conversing with the other two persons inside her head: the shy, English-speaking Zaldy; and the testosterone-overloaded Isaac. Imagine what happens when one character takes over all the others.

Amapola is destined to save the Philippines from apocalyptic destruction brought about by the onslaught of the tunggab and the impending reign of the newly elected president Trono. This messianic calling comes to him through Lola Sepa who emerges from—where else?—the toilet bowl. The old lady is Amapola's great-great-grandmother, once a manananggal, too, who fought the Spanish alongside the Katipuneros.

He, too, has an object of love: Homer, a widower, who has a son named Truman whom Amapola is particularly fond of. How will Homer react when he discovers that Amapola (or "Ate Amy", as Truman would call him) is an aswang? Ricky Lee never pushes this too far, and we get the impression that this is a love that can never be.

Ricky Lee employs a humor that's distinctly Filipino: Noranians who will do anything to bring Nora Aunor back to the country and see her perform one last time; bar club impersonators with the names Bev Without An S and Churvah Alilih; a manananggal named Stuterrer who always stutters; and the familiar, inspiring mother who will accept her children for whoever and whatever he may be.

Being accepted for who a person is forms the core theme of the book, but Ricky Lee also highlights the importance of nationalism, love for country and others, sacrifice, friendship, and the value of a good laughter.

His writing is excellent, debunking the age-old notion that to write in Filipino, one must write as if one were filling out a formal theme notebook (I remember that the notebook I owned was a cheap Aspen, with spiral binding, the one with Manilyn Reynes as the cover. I didn't have a choice. It was the only item available at the canteen).

If you want a good laugh, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this novel.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I'll try to read this after pedia. I'll return your book soon! Sorry for the delay. -AA :)

Wed Jul 31, 06:38:00 PM GMT+8  

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