06 December 2012

The year's best


The Aesthetics of Resistance, Vol. 1
The Box Man
The Gold in Makiling: A Translation of Ang Ginto sa Makiling
Laughing Wolf
Luha ng Buwaya
Maganda Pa Ang Daigdig: Nobela
Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Sa Aking Panahon
Style: The Art of Writing Well

Rise's favorite books »

This should be a fun exercise, selecting the standouts from the pile, the outstanding from the standouts. In cases where I couldn't decide whether to include or exclude a certain title, I ask myself some questions: Did I feel I totally get what the writer was trying to say? If yes, it's off the list. Any sense of humor, however miniscule? No? Then it's stricken off. Am I dying to reread it? Yes. Maybe. Include it.

1. The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, translated by Joachim Neugroschel

A group of students debating about art in the dialectical style of Plato. Squabbles and machinations between Social Democratic and Communist parties. The art and poetry of resistance, rebelling against the existing order, supplanting the prevailing thoughts with progressive notions, ideas. The first translated volume of a German trilogy, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, must already count among the high points of resistance art. It is difficult, stylish, philosophical, and Marxist. Novel is too limited a genre to describe its complex structures. One could identify it as a hybrid of philosophical categories: a manual on Marxist literary criticism, a guide to the appreciation of proletarian art, a manifesto of aesthetic revolution, a treatise on the history and philosophy of political art. These categories provide the key words but lack the corrosive power of the text. Whatever literary species and genera it belongs to, this work of Weiss is a construct of profound inventiveness. It contains probably one of the best readings there is of The Castle by Franz Kafka. Its aesthetics is ultimately a resistance against death, against mortality.

2. The Box Man by Abé Kobo, translated by E. Dale Saunders

A simple setup: a man in a box. From this the Japanese novelist explored relativism and subjectivity with a mind-bending mastery of shifting perspectives and moving frames of reference. Maddening and shattering, it shall exercise the mind, for good or bad.

3. The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, translated by Soledad S. Reyes

A post-war (1947) Filipino classic novel, finally translated this year. It's a love story, with elements of folklores, myths, legends, and history. At its center: the "cream of the race", the pride of the nation. That they all lived together at the heart of mythical Mount Makiling was plausible. Where else but in magical novels can these people be assembled? But Pineda went beyond this fantastical idea by raising a more fantastical possibility. What if these people come back to us? What if they climb down the mountain at some future time and assist their people in their struggles? What if they are already with us right now? The novelist struck literary gold with his excavation of native materials and customs. He presented a unique magic realist narrative rooted in local lores and nationalist history. The novel hinted at the need to break free from the shackles of colonial mentality and to renew traditional moral imperatives. It must be squarely in the crème de la crème among postwar Filipino novels. (review)

4. Laughing Wolf by Tsushima Yūko, translated by Dennis Washburn

About a young man and a girl who took a train trip across the physical and mental ruins of Japan right after the second world war. They came face to face with a people plagued with poverty, disease, and crimes. A novel must somehow clear a path, demonstrate its mastery on the page, and Laughing Wolf did that by writing about aspects of Japanese postwar history in a manner that was not entirely beholden to the methods of conventional historical fiction. Tsushima was doing something interesting and innovative to the fictional form of the novel. Her postmodernist technique had unassuming intelligence behind it. Laughing Wolf was a jarring text, in a provocative and brilliant sense, because it unsettled the pace and expectations of reading. And yet it was heartwarming for its generous sympathy and understanding. (review)

5. Luha ng Buwaya (Tears of the Crocodile) by Amado V. Hernandez

From a Filipino master of Tagalog prose, the story of a teacher who led the people in his village in resisting the machinations of the rich and corrupt landowners. It prescribes social organization and unity as keys to toppling the hideous reptiles in our midst. The novel is full of revelations about character while sharing ways of overcoming the travails of Philippine postwar agrarian society.

6. Maganda pa ang Daigdig (The World Is Wondrous Still) by Lazaro Francisco

Like Hernandez's Luha ng Buwaya, Lazaro's novel is a postwar novel of agrarian concerns and a worthy successor to José Rizal's political novels. It lays bare the injustices of the tenancy system by dramatizing the conflict between the landlord and the landless. Power comes to those who stand up to fight for what is just and right: "Ang mga matang naidilat na ay hindi na maipipikit!" (The eyes that had been made to see shall no longer close!) As with Hernandez's novel, it is ostensibly a love triangle amidst conflicts and confrontations. It engages with its fast-paced scenes right up to its melodramatic conclusion.

7. Mandarins, stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, translated by Charles De Wolf

Fifteen stories by the Japanese grandmaster defined what 'rashomonesque' was all about. The translation was elegantly done and the selection revealed Akutagawa's preoccupations with themes centering on adultery, Christian legends, the passing of a generation, and suicide. The concentration of trenchant images in this collection allowed for the characters to inhabit shifting states of feelings: from anxiety to serenity, from lust to resignation, from paranoia to ferocity. The latter feeling, that of fierceness or ferocity, of vulgarity and passion, may fully describe the elevated state of 'having deeply lived and loved' – in contrast to a life of pure intellect and culture – that lingers in the horizon of Akutagawa's artistic vision. (review)

8. Sa Aking Panahon (In My Time) by Edgardo M. Reyes

Pinatutunayan ng aklat na si Reyes ay isang maestro sa larangan ng maikling kuwento. Hindi lamang sa aspetong teknikal masasalat ang kanyang galing. Masusi, madamdamin ang pagninilay ng kwento sa masalimuot na sitwasyong kinasangkutan ng mga tauhan. Ang kwento nila ay kwento ng pagtutuos sa kapalaran ng mga walang-wala o ng mga nawawala. Sila ang kadalasang mga agrabyado sa buhay, mga dukha, mga "maliliit na tao." Ang mga tema ng kuwento sa koleksyong ito, ang kanilang kabuuan at konektadong epekto, ay nagtatanghal sa estado ng pamilya at lipunang Pilipino sa panahon ni Reyes. Hanggang ngayon ay masasabing nananatili ang nobena at nobela ng nagbabagong panahon at tradisyon. Sa ganang kanya, naipahayag ni Reyes ang isang uri ng "kapangahasang manggiba ng balag ng tradisyon" nang hindi sinasantabi ang dignidad ng indibidwal, at pinagdidiwang pa ang kanilang katapatan. (review)

9. Style by F. L. Lucas

This cult manual, holy grail of creative writing, was finally reissued in a third edition. One discovers an altogether fine book of "literary criticism" posing as a manual on writing. The medium is the message. In evaluating prose, Lucas is a convincing authority on what constitutes the stylish and what is rubbish. His own irreproachable writing demonstrates the championing of the concise, the clear, and the impeccable. Highly recommended for the conscientious reader and writer.

10. Trilce by César Vallejo, translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi

Unique strokes of lines, phrases, words. Archaic formulations, neologisms, and visually suggestive puns are the order of the day. The poems possess the lambent quality of a poker face and an audible silence. The varied interpretations of each poem at the end are a fulsome treat. Through his translators, the Peruvian poet Vallejo destroys old words by creating new meanings.

04 December 2012

Reading the second half of 2012

"I’m not one of those nationalist monsters who only reads what his native country produces", said one novelist who was fond of detectives for characters. By the second half of the year, I woke up to find the upper half of my body turned into a monster. I gobbled up a good share of writings by Filipino writers, in both Tagalog and English languages. I expect this nationalist fever to continue into the post-apocalyptic, post-doom new year and beyond. Yet the call of international and translated literature still persists. One's metamorphosis as a reader isn't ever complete.

The titles below were what I read from July to November. I decided to cut the year-end reading report to November. The last month was just too euphoric for me to post titles added to the reading list.

In this period I read a total of 36 books, bringing the year's total to 75 (or 6.8 books per month). As with my reading in the first half, graphic novels bloated the total. The stats are summarized below.

75 books read in 2012 -- 61 fiction (40 novels, 14 graphic, 7 short story collections), 7 poetry, 6 nonfiction, 1 mixed
62 books by male writers, 13 by female writers
40 translations -- 20 from Japanese, 11 from Spanish, 5 from German, 2 from Tagalog, 1 from French, 1 from Swedish
35 original language -- 18 Tagalog, 15 English, 1 mixed, 1 no language

Books read (July-November 2012)

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Mishima Yukio, trans. John Nathan
12 by Manix Abrera
Trese: Midnight Tribunal by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio, trans. Meredith Weatherby
Dust Devils by Rio Alma, ed. and trans. Marne Kilates
Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio, trans. C. Dickson
Luha ng Buwaya by Amado V. Hernandez
3 Strange Tales by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, trans. Glenn Anderson
Kikomachine Komix Blg. 4 by Manix Abrera
Maganda pa ang Daigdig by Lazaro Francisco
Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties by John J. L. Mood
It's a Mens World by Bebang Siy
El Filibusterismo by José Rizal, trans. Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin
Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles by Erik Matti and Ronald Stephen Y. Monteverde
Kapitan Sino by Bob Ong
Kikomachine Komix Blg. 3 by Manix Abrera
The Devil's Causeway by Matthew Westfall
Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag by Edgardo M. Reyes
The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, trans. Joachim Neugroschel
Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila #1 by Carlo Vergara
Sa Aking Panahon by Edgardo M. Reyes
My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard, trans. Carol Brown Janeway
Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca, illus. Christina Quisumbing Ramilo
The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, trans. Soledad S. Reyes
A Contract With God by Will Eisner
Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 10, by Megumi Osuga and Kotaro Isaka, trans. Stephen Paul
Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay
Dekada '70 by Lualhati Bautista
This Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges
Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino
Fair Play by Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal
Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali by Jun Cruz Reyes
Style: The Art of Writing Well by F. L. Lucas
Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin by Bob Ong
Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong
Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction, ed. Cass Canfield Jr.

Also reviewed: "The Golden Hare" by Silvina Ocampo, trans. Andrea Rosenberg

Readalong co-hosted:

- The Savage Detectives Group Read

Reading events followed:

- German Literature Month II (November) by Caroline and Lizzy
- Literature and War Readalong by Caroline (July: Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji; November: The Stalin Front by Gert Ledig)
- José Saramago Month by Miguel
- Argentinean Literature of Doom
- Spanish Lit Month (July) by Stu and Richard
Japanese Literature Challenge 6 by Bellezza

Anticipated event: January in Japan by Tony

13 November 2012

3 Strange Tales (Akutagawa Ryūnosuke)

3 Strange Tales by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, translated by Glenn Anderson (One Peace Books, 2012)

I met the couple yesterday, a little past noon. The breeze blew through and pulled back the silk scarf draped over the woman and I saw her face for just a moment. It was just a second, because then I couldn't see it anymore. Maybe that was the reason, I'm not sure, but she looked like she'd fallen from heaven and I made up my mind then and there to steal her away, even if it meant killing the man.
The speaker, the notorious bandit Tajomaru, was confessing to the crime. All he needed was just a second to decide that he will commit a crime. He wasn't sure what compelled him to do it. He thought it was the breeze momentarily revealing the face of a woman. Maybe that was the reason, I'm not sure. But he made up his mind there and then. Later, he explained:

But you didn't see her face. You didn't see the way her eyes burned when she said it. When I saw her face, let God strike me dead, I had to have her for my wife. I had to have her—that was the only thought in my head.

The actions of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's characters are strange. They are rash, impulsive. They are strange because they went unexplained. Or the explanation was insufficient—You didn't see her face. The characters decide things rather quickly, without regard for the consequences of their acts. They—in a word—snap.

The moment I stood the man kicked me to the ground, and it was just then that I saw the glint—it's hard to describe it, but there was a glint in my husband's eyes. I don't know how to describe it, but just the memory of it sends shivers down my spine.

The woman's testimony, contradicting the bandit's, was equally strange. She knew what she had seen—a glint—and was terrified of it. There was uncertainty on her part (it's hard to describe it ...
I don't know how to describe it) but she nonetheless left an indelible image—a glint—that will be very hard to forget.

These passages were taken from the popular story of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke called "In a Grove". The last story from the recent translation 3 Strange Tales. It was in fact the fourth story, a "bonus story" after the first three. The inexact number of stories in the title may be fitting, given the set of unreliable narrators in "In a Grove" whose testimonies regarding what happened on the day a man was killed were (oddly) at odds with each other.

All four stories were unified by the passionate intensity of the characters. Their prevailing mood shifted from a brooding atmosphere to acts of extreme violence. The characters were impulsive, highly sensitive, slaves to their feelings. Their violent deeds were executed with no fuss. They had a short fuse.

In moments of desperation, they were, moreover, not quite themselves. They seemed to be possessed by somebody else. Here was the murdered victim of "In a Grove", his testimony spoken through a medium, no less.

The grove was silent, or I thought it was. Straining my ears in the quiet, I could just make out the sound of someone crying. Soon I discovered that it was only my own quiet sobs that filled the clearing.

Yet another kind of possession was at work in the third story, "Agni", which appeared here in translation for the very first time. The story was about an Indian woman, a witch, who kidnapped a young girl which she forcefully used as the medium for Agni, a powerful Indian god who could tell the future. The witch was notorious as a fortune teller; she was selling Agni's prophecies to rich buyers. At the start of the tale, a man called on the witch to ask when Japan and America will go to war. A possession was scheduled at midnight so the woman could give the answer in the morning.

With the help of a man who was searching for the girl, the girl hatched a plan to escape the witch. She would pretend a false possession by Agni right before she went to sleep. As Agni, she would then command the witch to immediately return her to her father or else she'll be killed. Will the girl be able to pull it off? Will she be able to pretend being possessed before she went to sleep and became actually possessed by Agni? And, in that case, will she be able to convince the witch?

This "possession", a kind of wholesale transformation of a character's attitude or being, was an essential device for Akutagawa. The transformation may be brought about by an actual possession, or it may be compelled by extreme events and circumstances, but the result was the same. A character was changed into someone else.

The other two stories in the slim collection—"Rashomon" and "A Christian Death"—were widely anthologized. They also closely followed the framework of unpredictability brought about by the characters' sudden emotional outbursts and violent actions. They captured the strange territory of the rashomonesque, the relativity of good and evil. But this time, the stories unfolded within apocalyptic settings.

"Rashomon" was set in the declining city of Kyoto in the aftermath of disasters: earthquakes, typhoons, fires, and famines. A servant, newly dismissed by his master, was contemplating the surrounding wasteland below the gate of Rashomon. It was raining and he was trapped. The moral decay around him was essential to understanding the moral choice he made at the end of the story, while confronting an old woman in a tower. The choice—his conviction—suddenly came to him, as if it possessed him.

As he listened he was gripped by a new conviction, one that worked on him in precisely the opposite way than his earlier ruminations on evil had when he leapt into the tower and grappled with the woman. It was the very conviction that he had lacked when he sat under the gate.

The servant had been profoundly troubled when confronted with a choice between death and a life of crime. But now—now, the very concept of starvation had left him entirely.

"A Christian Death", a fictional account of an event in Nagasaki sometime in the late 16th century, was also concerned about moral choices. With the same economy of detail in the other stories, Akutagawa sketched a story of Christian missionaries faced with a moral crisis. A young boy they adopted and grew very fond of was accused of impregnating a girl in the neighborhood. He was expelled from the church. The tale culminated with an apocalyptic fire, an event that became a testing ground for the faith of all involved characters and the veritable stage for Akutagawa's successive unfolding of revelations, as unpredictable as they were incredible. (And here I would like to make a conjecture that the Brazilian novelist João Guimarães Rosa had read and was inspired by this particular Akutagawa story in the writing of his grand novel Grande Sertão: Veredas. But that is perhaps for another post.)

The translations, by Glenn Anderson, sounded simple and conversational. Here are comparisons of passages from the one story that overlapped with Mandarins (2007), translated by Charles De Wolf.

"The Death of a Disciple", De Wolf (2007)"A Christian Death", Anderson (2012)
Moreover, in the stillness of the night he would stealthily leave his outcast's hut and tread the light of the moon to the beloved church and there pray that the Lord Jesus might watch over him.Every night, after the town had gone to sleep, he snuck out from his hovel and, under the light of the moon, approached the familiar grounds of the Santa Lucia and prayed fervently for the blessings of Jesus the Christ.
No border guardsman, as the proverb tells us, can halt the passage of time. One should imagine how within a twinkling of an eye, a year had come and gone. Then there was in Nagasaki a conflagration that in one night destroyed half of the city. So terrifying was the spectacle that the hair of those who witnessed it stood on end, for they might well have believed that they had heard the trumpet of the Last Judgment thundering across the fiery sky.Time waits for no man. A year had passed when the unexpected occurred. An enormous fire overtook Nagasaki, threatening to burn half of the town to the ground. The sky was dyed the color of flame, and the shrieking of the hissing wood shot over the town like the crack of a trumpet, signalling the end times.
But what of it? That which is most precious in a human life is indeed found in such an irreplaceable moment of ecstasy. To hurl a single wave into a void of depravity, as dark as a nocturnal sea, and capture in the foam the light of a not-yet-risen moon ... It is such a life that is worth living. But that is no matter, for the magnificence of a person's life is condensed into the singular moment when their spirit reaches its pinnacle of expression. A man will make his life worth living when he tosses a wave into the darkest night, breaking through the firmament of human desire that stretches over the sea, and captures in its foam the light of the moon yet to rise.

De Wolf's diction I find circumspect and measured, Anderson's straightforward and simplified. A case can be made for any of the two versions. In any case, the three (plus one) intense stories in 3 Strange Tales are a perfect sampler of Akutagawa, the acknowledged "father of the Japanese short story".

I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. 

11 November 2012

My Prizes (Thomas Bernhard)

"My Prizes", translated by Carol Brown Janeway, in Gathering Evidence and My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard (Vintage International, 2011)

"Now is the time to stand firm, I thought, demonstrate my intransigence, courage, single-mindedness. I'm not going to go and meet them, I thought, just as (in the deepest sense of the word) they didn't meet me." The attitude--pure Thomas Bernhard--was unmistakable. There was pride, hardheadedness, combativeness. The novelist was about to receive the Grillparzer Prize from the podium but he went unrecognized by the prize administrators. No one at the front door received him and his aunt. So they just went in. The guests of honor had arrived. The musicians were in place. Everyone was seated. But he didn't budge from his seat. "Of course the ceremony didn't begin", Bernhard wrote. The ceremony couldn't begin. Bernhard had stood his ground. He had made up his mind. He would only come in front if the President of the Academy of Sciences would personally fetch him from his seat.

That offending and offensive spirit was what characterized the novelist's recounting of the prize ceremonies he attended in My Prizes: An Accounting (2009), a short volume which also appeared alongside his childhood memoirs (Gathering Evidence). If one deigned to give Bernhard a prize, one must give it on Bernhard's own terms. If one would believe him, he was participating in those nonsense ceremonies only for the prize money. But it was obvious that he also felt pride in receiving them, particularly for prizes honoring his early works (like the ones for his early novels Frost and The Lime Works). In these essays he was, as in his works of fiction, honest and frank, if a bit tactless. He was in his usual fighting form.

Herr Bernhard was receiving the prize for his play A Feast for Boris, said Hunger (the play that had been appallingly badly acted a year before by the Burgtheater company in the Academy Theater), and then, as if to embrace me, he opened his arms wide.... He shook my hand and gave me a so-called award certificate of a tastelessness, like every other award certificate I have ever received, that was beyond comparison.

The usual cantankerous Bernhard was also one who deplored the least sight of his country. It would not be the same Bernhard if the reader was not treated to his anti-nationalist rant.

I didn't like the town. It's cold and repulsive and if I hadn't had [Elisabeth] Borchers and my thoughts of the eight thousand marks [the prize money], I would probably have left again after the first hour. How I hate these medium-sized towns with their famous historical buildings by which their inhabitants allow themselves to be perverted their whole lives long. Churches and narrow alleys in which people vegetate, their minds turning more mindless all the time. Salzburg, Augsburg, Regensburg, Würzburg, I hate them all, because mindlessness has been kept warming over in them for hundreds of years.

Interestingly, the handful of short essays and speeches here would make for a good entry point to the novelist. There were incidents told here that would be exploited further in his fiction. The incident of his buying a decrepit house, for example, was also recounted in Yes. The infamous awarding ceremony in Wittgenstein's Nephew was also told in compact form here.

When Bernhard sat in a jury to award the Bremen Literature Prize (having won the previous one), he had made up his mind to vote for Canetti, only to be overruled by the other jurors.

I wanted to give Canetti the prize for Auto-da-Fé, the brilliant work of his youth which had been reissued a year before this jury met. Several times I said the word Canetti and each time the faces around the long table grimaced in a self-pitying sort of way. Many of the people at the table didn't even know who Canetti was, but among the few who did know about Canetti was one who suddenly said, after I had said Canetti again, but he's also a Jew. Then there was some murmuring, and Canetti landed under the table. I can still hear this phrase but he's also a Jew although I can't remember who at the table said it. But even today I often hear the phrase, it came from some really sinister quarter.

This display of anti-Semitism was unacceptable to Bernhard. What further inflamed him was the manner of the selection of the eventual winner (Hildesheimer). It was just as thoughtless and crude. Hildesheimer was chosen as the compromise winner if only because time was running out and "the smell of evening roast was already seeping through the double doors".

Who Hildesheimer really was, not one of them seemed to know.... The gentlemen stood up and went out into the dining room. The Jew Hildesheimer had won the prize. For me that was the point of the prize. I've never been able to keep quiet about it.

Bernhard couldn't take seriously any prize that was showered on him because the same standard that selected Hildesheimer for a winner could have been used to select him as a winner in the past and could at any time be used to select future winners. That was the pointless point of the prize for him.

But no prizes are an honor, I then said, the honor is perverse, there is no honor in the world. People talk about honor and it's all a dirty trick, just like all talk about any honor, I said. The state showers its working citizens with honors and showers them in reality with perversities and dirty tricks, I said.

But the height of Bernhard's adventure with prizes was his conferment of the Austrian State Prize for Literature, where the Minister walked out on him while he was still in the middle of his acceptance speech, not before hurling some curses his way. Reading the text of the winner's speech one would have an idea why the Minister walked out, and all his people after him:

Our era is feebleminded, the demonic in us a perpetual national prison in which the elements of stupidity and thoughtlessness have become a daily need. The state is a construct eternally on the verge of foundering, the people one that is endlessly condemned to infamy and feeblemindedness, life a state of hopelessness in every philosophy and which will end in universal madness.

Thomas Bernhard won the prestigious state prize and while delivering his speech he was shunned. Those statesmen must have lacked for a sense of humor.

A bibliography of Bernhard's writings can be found here.

The German Literature Month II is hosted by Caroline and Lizzy.

29 October 2012

"The Golden Hare" (Silvina Ocampo)


Two years ago the online translation magazine Words Without Borders (WWB) published an issue devoted to contemporary Argentinean fiction. "Beyond Borges", the title of the issue, was proof of César Aira's assertion that every writer from Argentina finds herself writing against the master.

A year ago The Argentina Independent also launched a series called "Beyond Borges". It profiled writers like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Leopoldo Lugones, Silvina Ocampo, Ernesto Sabato, Alejandra Pizarnik, Rodolfo Walsh, and many more.

"The Golden Hare", a story by Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993), was included in the WWB issue. Ocampo, who was part of a literary set with Borges and Bioy Casares, wrote poetry and story collections. She was younger sister to Victoria Ocampo, the founder of the influential literary journal Sur. She edited with husband Bioy and friend Borges the anthology The Book of Fantasy (1940) which contains 80-plus stories from an international set of writers. Her own writing style was considered as belonging to the surrealist-fantastic mold. Only two other books of hers appeared in English: the collection Leopoldina's Dream (1988) and the novella The Topless Tower (2010).

"The Golden Hare" is a fable for children and adults. It first appeared in the collection La furia in 1959. The story was about an immortal hare who had undergone a series of metamorphoses ("innumerable transmigrations" of soul) and then was pursued by a pack of dogs. Its meaning was not readily transparent. At some point, the narrator warned, "This is not a children's story, Jacinto", but then acknowledged that the conversation between the animals could enchant a curious seven-year old boy.

The opening was rather ornate: "In the bosom of the afternoon the sun illuminated her like a conflagration in the engravings of an ornate Bible." The overall tone hovered between menace ("The dogs were not evil, but they had sworn to catch the hare just to kill her.") and whimsicality ("The black Dane had time to snatch up an alfajor or some other pastry, which he kept in his mouth until the end of the race.").

Meanings can surely be attached like prostethic antlers to the head, although that's another animal. There was something about the tale that resembled the slipperiness of a hare, or a deer. Andrea Rosenberg, the story's translator, wrote a brief note about gender and word choice. She pointed out that "it is impossible to read Ocampo’s original without noticing how the contrast between dogs and hare is underscored by their opposing grammatical gender." The story was not limited, however, by the assumed gender of its participants.

If not for any earth-shattering insights, read it for the sake of reading. It was a short playful race too.

A Halloween-ish post for the Argentinean Literature of Doom. More translated works by Argentinean writers – Saer, Piglia, etc. – appearing in WWB can be accessed here.

28 October 2012

The Devil's Causeway (Matthew Westfall)

The Devil's Causeway: The True Story of America's First Prisoners of War in the Philippines, and the Heroic Expedition Sent to Their Rescue, by Matthew Westfall (Lyons Press, 2012)

In 1896, the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish who occupied and governed the Philippine Islands for more than 300 years broke out. The Katipunan, a clandestine organization bent on toppling the colonial government, was discovered, and this commenced a series of bloody confrontations between Spain and the freedom fighters.

Two years later, the Empire of Spain was threatened by another interest. The Americans intervened in the Spanish government in Cuba and later defeated the Spanish armada both in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay. By June 1898, the Philippine revolutionary force proclaimed the country's independence from Spain. Its leader, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, became the first president.

The Spanish surrendered and ceded its territories to the American victors through the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. The Philippines was effectively sold to the American government who did not recognize the sovereignty of the islands. The Filipino freedom fighters woke up to find their territory annexed to a new imperialist government, once again threatened to become colonial subjects to a new master. Those who previously resisted the Spanish rule also opposed the new government which appeared to be bent on implementing its own program of expansionism. A new war ensued in 1899. The turn of the century saw the turn of another chapter of history book, still tainted with tears and blood.

This historical gloss, familiar to students of Philippine history, was unfortunately simplified and incomplete, like all versions of history. Nonetheless, it was a necessary background to understand The Devil's Causeway by Matthew Westfall. The book filled in some gaps in the Philippine-American War, and provided new facts and perspectives while recounting an untold story of combat and rescue. The details of the incident would have been forgotten, but thanks to Westfall, a spotlight was now trained on a 110-year old encounter whose significance was not lost on modern conflicts and use of force.

In a Spanish church in Baler in the eastern coast of Luzon Island, some Spanish soldiers were trapped by the Filipino Army of Liberation. The siege lasted for all of several months, prompting an attempt of the Americans in Manila to rescue the soldiers of their former enemies. A battleship, the USS Yorktown, was sent to Baler. Following the ill-advised command of an American officer, a gunner boat from the ship entered a river and was ambushed by Filipino soldiers. A couple of soldiers were killed. Some were mortally wounded. The commander and the rest of his sailors were held captives. The dead were buried on the spot while one of the critically wounded was buried alive by order of a cruel Filipino commander.

The rescue of Lt. James C. Gillmore Jr. (the officer) and his men was a run to the hostile mountain passes of Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras. The pursuit was more like a cat-and-mouse game. Every attempt by the Americans to corner the mobile Filipino soldiers to get to the prisoners was rebuffed. The prisoners of war were dragged deeper and deeper into the forest interior of Luzon, battling not only war wounds and fatigue but deadly tropical diseases, not to mention being exposed to the territories of notorious headhunting tribes.

Their advance brought them to steeper and rougher trails. In places, the prisoners had to crawl hand over hand, helping each other over the large boulders.... Gillmore later recalled, "The penalty of a single misstep [would have been] to dash to death into the rapids perhaps a hundred feet below." They had entered, he colorfully described, "a veritable devil's causeway." Just before dusk, they reached the head of the dark canyon and camped for the night, "more dead than alive."

Westfall spent considerable time researching the primary materials for this book from various libraries in the US, the Philippines, and Spain, sometimes even taking the trouble to have the Spanish documents translated. The credibility of his historical narrative was due in part to his use of first-hand accounts by participants in the conflict.

A remarkable quality of his version of events was its objective presentation. One could sense the writer's attempt to tell a balanced view of events by considering both the military objectives of American and Filipino officers. Westfall, a filmmaker on the side, had the instinct of a storyteller to tell a compelling drama. He assembled a narrative that appeared at times like a detailed treatment for a period war movie. He knew when to fade out from his immediate narrative to set out the larger historical contexts and when to point out the far-ranging implications of seemingly small but ultimately decisive political and military decisions.

The use of vintage photographs was also rather effective. His motivation to pursue the story itself, Westfall admitted, was inspired by his discovery of a photograph of the then-nameless rescued American soldiers, whose stories he vowed to research and write. Appearing on the book's front cover, the photograph was one of its kind. At the time it was taken, the folding pocket Kodak camera was just introduced.

The photograph was moreover a fitting emblem of the book's photomontage style. The filmic editing of multiple narrative strands was appropriate as Westfall was able to zoom in and out of the viewpoints of a large set of characters, panning from one location to the next without loss of continuity. It would have been easy for The Devil's Causeway to be overwhelmed by details, but the details were used ingeniously to produce a singular photograph of a protracted war.

It was finally refreshing to read a historical narrative with a post-nationalist perspective centered on actions and motivations. By taking advantage of a novelistic framework, The Devil's Causeway was not weighed down by nationalistic ideologies that were sometimes detrimental to a holistic appreciation of history. It was also crucial that the writer knew who was "the center of gravity" of the war; and for this narrative, he had himself chosen a young American soldier as the conscience of his story. The latter was the boy Venville whose story of disappearance became a sub-plot from which the book gained some of its emotional tug.

In his epilogue, Westfall was able to tally up the "cost of conquest", which might as well be the cost of arrogance. The cost was no less than the life and health of many soldiers on both sides. (It was disheartening to learn how unfairly the American government treated its own veterans of the Philippine-American War by refusing to assist them as they age and battle health problems, most likely caused by their war experience, at home. It was now no longer surprising to me why the Filipino war veterans who fought side by side with the Americans against the Japanese in the Second World War were up to now denied just recognition and compensation for their efforts.)

This history book that reads like an adventure novel was a riveting look at the earliest American "adventure" in the Philippines. Westfall prefaced the chapters in the book with excerpts from Joseph Conrad's contemporaneous Heart of Darkness (1899), making clear his position on the vagaries of imperialistic war. Time and again, a nation's soldiers fought and waged war in the name of the flag – the flag which was the easiest way for the war machine to solicit blind obedience. As Harry Wilmans exclaimed in Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology (1916):

With bullying, hatred, degradation among us,
And days of loathing and nights of fear
To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp,
Following the flag,
Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts.
Now there’s a flag over me in Spoon River!
A flag! A flag!

I received an advance reading copy of this book through Goodreads.

03 October 2012

The Gold in Makiling (Macario Pineda)

The Gold in Makiling (1947) by Macario Pineda, translated and with an introduction by Soledad S. Reyes (Anvil, 2012)

The Gold in Makiling began with the mysterious disappearance of an old woman in the town of Malolos in 1947. When informed of this by a letter, the editor of a popular weekly magazine sent a writer (the narrator) to investigate this incident and perhaps write about what he finds out there. The narrator was in fact a bit familiar with the story of the woman. He himself was a relative of hers: "If it was true that an old woman disappeared, and that woman's name was Susana de los Santos, what I would face in Malolos was the culmination of a story of love, unique and not comparable with any other story written and published elsewhere in the world."

The novelist was getting ahead of himself, but that love story, between Sanang and Edong, was the story told to the narrator by Tata Doro, the nephew of Sanang and who as a young boy was witness to the mysterious series of events in the novel. Tata Doro's story went back to the beginning of the century (1906, in the early years of American occupation in the country).

When Doro was a young boy, his aunt's lover Edong went to Mount Makiling with his friends to gather orchids. The mythical Mount Makiling in the province of Laguna was believed to be haven of a goddess-like being called Mariang Makiling. Edong met an accident while trying to save a small bird at the edge of a ravine. He fell down the mountain cliff and was believed to have met a certain death. His body though was never found.

What followed was the beginning of magic, mystery, and enchantment, including an encounter with the mountain goddess herself. Edong returned to the village. He was alive after all. His survival he attributed to the power of Maring Makiling, who saved and healed him because of his concern for the animals of the mountain.

Mariang Makiling was as perfect as she was idealized: "She's a ray of light, a flower, a drop of dew teetering on the tip of a blade of grass in the early morning, a brilliance, a fragrance, a lovely poem, an idea ..." The land she guarded in the heart of the mountain was a secret village. In this community everyone treated each other like brothers and sisters; food was shared by all; peace reigned; there's a strong sense of bayanihan or unity; there's no political structure, no hypocrisy. Every smile was sincere and true. Most significantly, it was also a version of utopia and Elysian Fields. It was populated by the most noble and charismatic figures in Philippine history, both real and imaginary: the real heroes who contributed to the fight for independence against Spanish oppressors and the imaginary characters in great literary works. Think of the likes of Filipino great José Rizal rubbing shoulders with some of his characters in his novel Noli me Tangere.

They are people who, because of their constancy and steadfastness, became victims. There were those that life took advantage of, like a tenant, working on the land for fifty years, but because he lost his leg, in an accident, he also lost his job and was in danger of starving and facing imminent death. There is a servant from a town, mauled by his master, because of some baseless accusation. There is someone named Crispin, who was accused of stealing money and severely beaten up in a convent during the Spanish period. His mother is also there ... There is a man with a magnificent physique, respected by all. He has a huge scar on his forehead and it is said that his body bore wounds inflicted by a spear.

The novelist was offering an alternative reality. He had put in one place, to live as a community, the best men and women of the past, the champions of history, what he called kakanggata ng lahi, a beautiful concept and term in Tagalog. Kakanggata is literally the first milk extracted from freshly grated coconut meat. The translator rendered it as "the cream of the race", a good approximation that contains the sense of "cream of the crop".

The cream of the race were the pride of the nation. That they all lived together in the heart of Makiling was plausible. Where else but in magical novels can these people be assembled? But Pineda went beyond this fantastical idea by raising a more fantastical possibility. What if these people come back to us? What if they climb down the mountain at some future time and assist their people in their struggles? What if they are already with us right now?

To be able to live in this community, a sacrifice must be made, an unconditional offering of the self. This was the fate of Sanang as a lover; her love must be tested to the limits; her fortitude, her worthiness must be weighed against gold. Sanang was destined to brave the ravages of time before she could return to the arms of Edong and finally ascend and join the commune in Makiling.

The "gold" in the title was the stones of gold in the magical mountain but its symbolic meaning was evident. Men tried to plunder the mountain of its riches but they might as well be pursuing a curse. As Edong told the young Doro, gold is precious only to the lowland people but the illustrious people that dwell in the mountain had no use for it. No amount of gold in the world could buy the happiness of Makiling's chosen few.

In her introduction, the translator pointed out that the gold also refers to "Filipinos who through education can make a difference in the lives of people". This was embodied by Tata Doro who gained education and who was able to form ideas on the "meaning of life" and the painful lessons of history under colonial rule. The gold could also symbolize the "gold" inside a human being: purity of character and the resilience of an individual to the hardships thrown her way. The same gold standard that the nation's heroes adhered to and which earned them a special place in Makiling.

The translation by Soledad S. Reyes rang true and confident to me. It gave a distinct flavor that must be beholden to the original quality of the Tagalog prose. The novelist himself, like other writers in his time, was a writer first in English, but he eventually wrote his novels in his native language. The English captured the magic and lyricism of the story. It was able to communicate a strong sense of atmosphere, as with the following passage before a climactic event, notable for its snappy rhythm and a sense of dread to come.

The whole village was quiet. The windows were shut in the early evening. No one walked about. All the lights in the houses were turned off. Even the dogs seemed not inclined to bark, and the owners immediately restrained the occasional growl. The owl roosting on Tandang Isko's bamboo tree was the only creature left to make a vigil, but its repeated hooting, echoing in the forsaken night, merely heightened the desolation that cloaked the town. In a manner of speaking, it could be said that the whole village of San Juan, in the grip of fear, hardly dared to breathe.

The seconds ticked, dragging themselves in the night. Time seemed to have stopped, and the night appeared endless. At ten o'clock the bell tolled, as if to signal the impending doom that would befall the town.

Slowly, the seconds passed and at midnight, the silence that shrouded the town appeared ready to explode, and if not allowed to, could be worse than the tragedy for which the town was bracing itself.

Published in the year 1947, Ang Ginto sa Makiling was considered the finest novel by Macario Pineda (1912-1950). The novel was a window to the attitudes and lifestyles of townspeople in the Philippines during the first half of 20th century. It was a time when divorce was never considered an option for married couples and when lies told of a woman besmearing her reputation demand the penalty of death.

Pineda struck literary gold with his excavation of native materials and customs. He presented a unique magic realist narrative rooted in local folklore, legends, and nationalist history. The novel hinted at the need to break free from the shackles of colonial mentality and to renew traditional moral imperatives. It must be squarely in the crème de la crème among postwar Filipino novels.

I was glad to find a copy of it in English translation and did not hesitate to buy one even if I could obtain a copy of it in its original Tagalog language. English translations of works in Tagalog or other Philippine languages must be rare. Perhaps there are a good number of them out there, but right now I could count in one hand the number of Filipino novels translated into English.

The main reason I can think for this lack of translation culture here is that there already exists a tradition of Philippine literature in English. There is then a kind of parochialism with regard to translation in a country where majority of the citizens are bilingual. It's the usual tired comment: Why read the English translation when you can read the original? Or, more worrisome: Why translate at all when the original is understood?

I will not go into making a case for reading translations here and for doing translations not only for the benefit of non-Filipino readers in English but for Filipino readers as well. I'm just glad that this novel finally saw publication in English after 65 years. The credit must go to the book's translator Soledad S. Reyes, editor Bienvenido Lumbera, and publisher. Reyes also published studies on Macario Pineda's fiction and her knowledge clearly made its mark on her excellent version.

28 September 2012

This Craft of Verse (Jorge Luis Borges)

I thought I'd never hear the brave librarian speak. Posterity saved the lectures that Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) delivered in Harvard University in the fall of '67 and spring '68. The Argentinian was nearing 70 when he gave this series of lectures. The recordings were discovered from the university archives and were transcribed and published in book form in 2000.

Borges's voice boomed across space and time. I found it ideal to listen to the lectures while following along with a transcription posted in a blog. It may be a better experience than just reading the transcriptions. Here is the free audio download page of the lectures.

He spoke in a clipped, staccato manner, catching breath and thought at once. He groped for ideas, rather like a blind man groping for things in the dark. But he always found them, and he brought them out to the light. We can sense him groping for ideas several moves in advance, building a construct from his previous readings, and then revealing the final elegant construction of the library of the mind, the library in his mind.

The audience listened intently, keenly, as the penetrating gaze of the master pierced through the lines of poetry and gave his literary interpretation and appreciation. He spoke the six lectures impromptu, with perhaps only a few days preparation for each topic.

The range of his subjects are as varied as colors. He began with the "riddle" of poetry and continued with metaphor, epic poetry and the novel, word-music and translation, and "thought and poetry". He ended with sharing his own creed as a poet wherein he "try to justify my own life and the confidence some of you may have in me, despite this rather awkward and fumbling first lecture of mine."

It was hardly awkward and fumbling. In every lecture he demonstrated utter erudition which was to be expected but still there's a pure kind of magic in the words he was unleashing. He had a way of saying things in a punctilious manner, of punctuating ideas even if they were, in retrospect, obvious observations. Like, for example, "Happiness, when you are a reader, is frequent." Or on reading lists: "The danger of making a list is that the omissions stand out and that people think of you as being insensitive." And on long books: "Though we are apt to think of mere size as being somehow brutal, I think there are many books whose essence lies in their being lengthy." And this came from a writer who never wrote a novel.

Among the verses he discussed included lines or passages from Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer", the sonnet "Inclusiveness" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Robert Frost and Browning, and a translation of San Juan de la Cruz. He recited them with feeling, bringing out the stresses where they fall, sometimes going at length in describing the choice of words of the poet and pointing out their distinctiveness, what makes the lines go on ringing in the reader's ears. Sometimes it felt like he was sharing his conversations with the old masters from Greek and Old English, giving us an exclusive preview to an anticipated blockbuster movie.

Aside from erudition, two other things marked the genius of these lectures: humor and humility. The speaker's rapport and interaction with the audience were amazing. One imagined the listeners hanging on to every word, as when he shared his propensity to book-buying:

Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I have come to the end of them, and yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books. When I go, when I walk inside a library, I find a book on one of my hobbies—for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry—I say to myself, "What a pity I can't buy that book because I already have a copy at home."

That last statement elicited laughter among the listeners who also broke into a hearty applause. There are many similar moments in the recording that were given to the audience's acknowledgement of the speaker's humor. The interaction between speaker and listeners was just precious.

The lectures also revealed a man of humility and self-effacing disposition, one who acknowledged his forebears and influences, and the sources of his metaphysical ideas.

If I were a daring thinker (but I am not; I am a very timid thinker, I am groping my way along), I could of course say that only a dozen or so patterns exist and that all other metaphors are mere arbitrary games.

In fact he said them, those things about the patterns and the games of metaphors. But he always gave fair warning on what and what not to expect from him. But still the things he spoke about!

His thoughts on translation were as timely as ever. In his lecture on translation he debunked the supposed inferiority of translations to the original text by stating, "I suppose if we did not know whether one was original and the other translation, we could judge them fairly." It's one of the best defense of translations I've read.

On the strange beauty of literal translations, he had an interesting take:

In fact, it might be said that literal translations make not only, as Matthew Arnold pointed out, for uncouthness and oddity, but also for strangeness and beauty. This, I think, is felt by all of us; for if we look into a literal translation of some outlandish poem, we expect something strange. If we do not find it, we feel somehow disappointed.

He erroneously assumed, however, that FitzGerald's translation of Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát—from which he quoted a quatrain as an example—is a literal one. And I'm not sure what he would make of Nabokov's extremely faithful Eugene Onegin.

That only a very few patterns and rhyming schemes existed in poetry led the poet to declare that free verse is much more difficult to pull off than rhymed poems.

I began, as most young men do, by thinking that free verse is easier than the regular forms of verse. Today I am quite sure that free verse is far more difficult than the regular and classical forms. The proof—if proof be needed—is that literature begins with verse. I suppose the explanation would be that once a pattern is evolved—a pattern of rhymes, of assonances, of alliterations, of long and short syllables, and so on—you only have to repeat the pattern. While, if you attempt prose (and prose, of course, comes long after verse), then you need, as Stevenson pointed out, a more subtle pattern. Because the ear is led to expect something, and then it does get what it expects. Something else is given to it; and that something else should be, in a sense, a failure and also a satisfaction. So that unless you take the precaution of being Walt Whitman or Carl Sandburg, then free verse is more difficult. At least I have found, now when I am near my journey's end, that the classic forms of verse are easier. Another facility, another easiness, may lie in the fact that once you have written a certain line, once you have resigned yourself to a certain line, then you have committed yourself to a certain rhyme. And since rhymes are not infinite, your work is made easier for you.

This idea, unorthodox as it is, was way more interesting than William Childress's rant against free verse. The latter's arguments was sometimes occluded by fundamentalist attitudes. In contrast, the poet here spoke with a fire in his voice, a bibliophile's enthusiasm that was hard to resist. Perhaps because he primarily thought of himself as essentially "a reader".

As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes—yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write.

And here I am thinking all along that Roberto Bolaño's line, "Reading is more important than writing", was his own. Borges practically said everything, as the Chilean writer himself acknowledged.

"When I write", the poet confessed, "I try to be loyal to the dream and not to the circumstances."

Of course, in my stories ... there are true circumstances, but somehow I have felt that those circumstances should always be told with a certain amount of untruth. There is no satisfaction telling a story as it actually happened. We have to change things, even if we think them insignificant; if we don't, we should think of ourselves not as artists but perhaps as mere journalists or historians.

A similar aesthetic was taken to heart by the late W. G. Sebald, who featured Borges in The Rings of Saturn. Writers, take heed.

On novels, it was clear he doesn't like the narrative strategy of Ulysses. He liked epics instead. He disdained self-conscious stories. By epic, he meant the simultaneous singing of a verse and telling of a story. By self-consciousness, he meant stories where "the hero is the teller, and so sometimes he [the hero] has to belittle himself, he has to make himself human, he has to make himself far too believable. In fact, he has to fall into the trickery of a novelist."

If we think about the novel and the epic, we are tempted to fall into thinking that the chief difference lies in the difference between verse and prose, in the difference between singing something and stating something. But I think there is a greater difference. The difference lies in the fact that the important thing about the epic is a hero—a man who is a pattern for all men. While, as Mencken pointed out, the essence of most novels lies in the breaking down of a man, in the degeneration of character.

So, better to fall into the trickery of a poet than novelist? It was possible the lecturer was averse to the encroachment of postmodernism on the novel. Like many critics, he saw the "death" of the novel:

I think that the novel is breaking down. I think that all those very daring and interesting experiments with the novel—for example, the idea of shifting time, the idea of the story being told by different characters—all those are leading to the moment when we shall feel that the novel is no longer with us.

What is to be done? The poet was not worried. "Because we are modern; we don't have to strive to be modern", he said. "It is not a case of subject matter or of style."

Even if we are now postmodern, we are still modern. He was confident that something was at hand. He prophesied the comeback of the epic:

Maybe I am an old-fashioned man from the nineteenth century, but I have optimism, I have hope; and as the future holds many things—as the future, perhaps, holds all things—I think that the epic will come back to us. I think that the poet shall once again be a maker. I mean, he will tell a story and he will also sing it. And we will not think of those two things as different, even as we do not think they are different in Homer or in Virgil.

Things could only go up from there. The epic novel was nigh. Maybe it was already with us. Maybe the metaphor was already made. He had made the suggestions, pointed to some interesting directions, and these were enough to fertilize the mind.

Anything suggested is far more effective than anything laid down.… When something is merely said or—better still—hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination.

That's what it felt like listening to the poet. One was a visitor being treated to the hospitality of an estimable and kind imagination.

"All writers in Argentina have had to find themselves against Borges", said César Aira, the Argentinean writer who chose an anti-Borgean path. "He is cold; he is an Everest of intelligence and lucidity uncontaminated by reality." In these recordings compiled as This Craft of Verse, the poet was not cold. He exuded warmth, like a grandfather. And the mountain of intelligence and lucidity had chosen to be accessible and scalable. The climb was memorable. The view from the summit was a postcard.

There's this end-of-the-year Argentinean literature doom-fest, with Richard (Caravana de recuerdos) at the helm.

24 September 2012

Soledad's Sister (Jose Dalisay)

Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay (Anvil, 2008)

"The Woman in the Box", the title of the first chapter of the second novel by Filipino writer Jose Dalisay, recounts the story of Aurora Cabahug's journey as a corpse in a casket from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to her home country. Aurora was one of millions of Filipino workers scattered all over the world who left the Philippines in droves in order to bring home the dollar, or riyal or whatever currency can fill empty pockets. Lacking sufficient source of income at home, they were swayed into working day jobs abroad to earn enough for a few years and then come home to live the Filipino dream. There's a profession for every determined person.

These were the maids, cooks, drivers, dancers, plumbers, draftsmen, welders, able-bodied seamen, and other purveyors of sundry services and trades who had left their kitchens, pigsties, classrooms, fruit stands, videoke bars, shoe factories, and vulcanizing shops in search of better jobs—in roiling sea and burning sand, from Singapore to Stockholm, London to Lagos, Riyadh to Reykjavik, in backstreet bar and oil rig, in nursing home and cannery, in wave after leaping wave across all the seas and oceans that ringed their island.

In exchange for financial gain, they had to make the sacrifice of leaving their children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. They had to brave the discrimination and abuses that some intolerant foreigners heap on them. Sometimes Filipino women who were taken in as domestic helpers were maltreated by their employers. Along with hard-earned dollars, some were unlucky enough to also earn bruises, scratches, and marks of flat iron on their back. Some had to escape their place of work and run to the Philippine embassy to report the physical assault and torture they suffered under their cruel employers. One also hears of news reports of a Filipina leaping from a high building in order to escape male employers who were about to rape them.

The government, instead of creating attractive jobs at home, was complicit in this diaspora. Grateful for the cash that their Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) bring home, the government hailed them as bagong bayani (modern-day heroes). Their sacrifices and martyrdom were a big factor in bolstering the economy. Those who were hardworking and lucky managed to come home moneyed and triumphant. But some 600 of them—the likes of Aurora Cabahug who was dead from a mysterious drowning and Filemon Catabay who was beheaded for some reason—yearly arrived in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in boxes, sealed tight and properly tagged with names and other identifying information.

Soledad's Sister is a darkly comic novel of Aurora's premature homecoming. The tragedy is not lightened by the frankness of the telling but the comedy is so potent it brings silent chuckles with its prose alive with brilliant asides, snides, and scathing ironies.

And so it happened that a family of seven had come all the way in a jeepney from Lingayen to meet and to claim the two segments of Filemon Catabay, who had been executed three months earlier. They had learned of his death the way many others did—after it happened, from a routine news report on DZXL, between an involved discussion of a movie star's rumored abortion and a commercial for a new and more potent livestock dewormer. The man's mother was gutting fish when her grandson ran in with the news; the fish she was holding trembled in her hand and then leapt out altogether in a final spasm, as though it had come back to life.

It was a case of corpse switching. It was a mistake, like every mistake and quirk of fate that materialized in the rest of the novel's trajectory. The body in the box was that of Aurora's, not Filemon's. The cause was a switching of the documents in the hands of an inconsiderate and vengeful vice-consul.

Dalisay used an irreverent omniscient narrator so powerful that he (the narrator) had recourse to every detail from what's being reported in radios to what the fish did after its last moments on earth. The seamless enjambment of scenes delineates the fickle narrator's switching from one detail to another. The narrator did not lack for things to say about certain characters introduced in the novel. In fact, new characters are still introduced even until late in the game. The narrator was without let up in describing things and people and their background and their circumstances in life. At the same time, he seems to be the harbinger of the fateful happenings in the story. Just like what the real Aurora, Soledad's sister, observed:

Who knows why people do what they do? Every day we do things we ourselves don't understand, although they seemed to make sense when we did them. Why is that? Can you tell me?

Who knows why novelists do what they do? The narrator will not tell but he sure will describe every nook and cranny of whatever, whatnot, anything his mind alights on. The rest of the novel's plot ambled along according to this principle of random-like addition of story elements. But instead of swiftly panning from one area of interest to another, the narrative started to linger longer on every character. This had the effect of killing the steam of the story. The pace rather flagged in the end such that the masterful, darkly comic start devolved into a solemn exercise in writing descriptive passages. It became a bit monotonous when its embrace of its initial conceptual framework began to loosen.

Nevertheless, Dalisay consistently cultivated at the heart of his tale a paradox as universal as it is inscrutable. Something to do with a person's pining for and expectation of something right, something better, something that will improve her station in life. When the overseas worker is far from home, there is no contingency for which she is ever prepared for. Her loved ones, for their part, are no less ready for any externality. Just like that.

Soledad's Sister is in the shortlist of the 2007 inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize.

15 September 2012

Dekada '70 (Lualhati Bautista)

Dekada '70: Ang Orihinal at Kumpletong Edisyon (1988) by Lualhati Bautista (Cacho Publishing House, 1991)

What better way to jump-start the martial law fiction reading project than with what was arguably the defining novel of the period? Lualhati Bautista gained notoriety when Dekada '70 came out in 1984, after having shared the grand prize for the Palanca Award for Best Novel one year previous. This novel about a Filipino family drastically affected by forces beyond their control was a national narrative of resistance against the Marcos dictatorship, against its repression of individual and societal rights and liberties. The story was told by Amanda Bartolome, wife to a dominating husband, mother to five sons, and – as she learned in the course of the novel – woman of her own mind. We found Amanda contemplating her role beyond her family of men, beyond a traditional patriarchy where a woman is only expected to serve a husband and rear children. This even as her world was being swept by the tides of history. Her strong-willed eldest child, Julian Jr. (Jules), was becoming more and more sympathetic to the ideology of leftist groups even as he increasingly felt alienated to the national government's raw display of totalitarian power. When the President handed down martial law in 1972, civil rights suffered in consequence. Student councils and school papers were closed down; the freedom of the press and the freedom to organize were curtailed; curfews were set; the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. It was only a matter of time before Jules joined the communist insurgency and for Amanda to lose many a night's sleep over her son's uncertain fate.

Higit kailanman ay ngayon ko nadarama ang mga trahedya ng maging ina. Hindi pala natatapos ang hirap at kirot sa pagsisilang ng anak, may mga sakit na libong ulit na mas masakit kaysa mga oras ng panganganak.

(Now more than ever I feel the tragedies of being a mother. It appears that my pains and sacrifices did not end with my giving birth to my son. There are pains a thousand times more painful than the hours of labor.)

What started as a domestic drama suddenly became a politically charged look at the lives of ordinary individuals in repressive regimes. Bautista dramatized the temper of the times using explicit images, language, and scenes. The action of the novel revolved only around a single family and yet she managed to infuse the domestic conflicts among brothers and parents with conviction. The Bartolomes were a nuclear family that could be viewed as a microcosm of a country descending into chaos. We followed Amanda as she began to question her relationship with her husband and internalize the violence threatening her children. From the seventies until the lifting of martial law in 1981, and even beyond that, we were privy to Amanda's increasing awareness of injustices around her, the socioeconomic and political issues hidden from sight, and her emerging political and feminist principles – these two principles becoming inseparable and closely tied together.

As the Bartolomes braved the dark shadows of military rule, vigilante killings, and social unrest, the reader was witness to a freak history. There were some wrenching scenes that seared into the mind, yet there were simple moments in the book that were equally hard-hitting in their emotional tenderness. Dekada was squarely in the tradition of José Rizal's 19th century protest novels against Spanish colonialism, the Noli and Fili, because it dared to question and critique the ruling power and its cohorts, and because it presented a forceful synthesis of abuses, corruption, and violence under martial law. No other novel had so lived up to its titular era as perhaps no other could have proposed its own "truthful", and hence "subversive", aesthetic of resistance against a dictatorship regime.

The family is the basic unit of society, we are taught and constantly reminded in schools. Bautista had shown that its values are also its pillars and that the seeds of resistance to any unjust authority at any time could very well dwell in a family. Dekada had set the bar for a martial law novel so high that I shall be reading succeeding Filipino novels for this reading project against Bautista's standard. She managed to distill an epoch of madness in those trying times, in that "world of men" that Amanda was starting to reject. For the record, in her record, in the words of her protagonist, the novelist defined the role of the writer in those circumstances: "Manunulat ang nagpe-preserb sa katinuan ng lipunan nya." ("It is the writer who preserves the sanity of her society.") Indeed they do, the very best of them, the authentic ones. They restore it to its senses. They slap it so hard that it may wake from its long sleep.

First published in edited form in 1984, Dekada anticipated the 1986 EDSA Revolution that toppled President Marcos from power. In one of its deft ironic touches, it was prescient in detecting a major change in the air: Naiisip ko . . . naiisip ko lang naman . . . wala sanang magalit sa 'kin pero naiisip ko . . . na kailangan na nga yata natin ang rebolusyon! (I was thinking . . .  I was just thinking . . . let no one mind me but I was thinking . . . that maybe it's time we need a revolution!)

The writing style of Dekada was considered controversial during its time because some passages in the novel were written in Taglish, a mixture of Tagalog and English words. Language purists must have felt discomfort at the threat to the purity of the Tagalog vernacular and so failed to acknowledge the realist style of Bautista's language. Her writing was also deemed "unpolished" for its straightforward, colloquial dialogue and presentation even if that's how Filipinos talked then and now. The Taglish aspect of the prose is one consideration for the translator should the novel be translated into English.

11 September 2012

The castle

Angkor Wat, Cambodia (image source)

Sometimes he would tell her the story of the guard who protected the imaginary castle.

There was a castle. No. It wasn't necessarily a castle, it could be anything: a factory, a bank, a gambling house. So the guard could be either a watchman or a bodyguard. Now the guard, always prepared for the enemy attack, never failed in his vigilance. One day the long-expected enemy finally came. This was the moment, and he rang the alarm signal. Strangely enough, however, there was no response from the troops. Needless to say, the enemy easily overpowered the guard in one fell swoop. In his fading consciousness he saw the enemy sweeping like the wind through the gates, over the walls, and into the buildings unhindered by anyone. No, it was the castle, not the enemy, that was really like the wind. The single guard, like a withered tree in the wilderness, had stood guarding an illusion.

– from The Woman in the Dunes by Abé Kobo and E. Dale Saunders

See also "A Message from the Emperor" by Franz Kafka and Mark Harman, a sort of streamlined version of Das Schloß.

09 September 2012

Augustus (John Williams)

Augustus (1972) by John Williams, introduction by John McGahern (Vintage International, 2004)

John Williams (1922-1994) wrote a supreme novel in Augustus, his fourth and last. It's a historical drama set in the ancient republic of Rome and revolves around the eponymous emperor. The style is epistolary, with letters, memoirs, and memoranda exchanging hands among a fairly large dramatis personae deserving of an ensemble acting award, or rather distinct voices award, for moving along the strands of plot toward a visionary conclusion. Williams's cohesive vision of power and consequential human destiny is in many senses Shakespearian. He has consolidated exacting language, strong characters, flashes of awesome feelings, and moments of simplicity and grace. I was actually quoting these qualities.

Mankind in the aggregate I have found to be brutish, ignorant, and unkind, whether those qualities were covered by the coarse tunic of the peasant or the white and purple toga of a senator. And yet in the weakest of men, in moments when they are alone and themselves, I have found veins of strength like gold in decaying rock; in the cruelest of men flashes of tenderness and compassion; and in the vainest of men moments of simplicity and grace.

Augustus shared with Williams's early novel Stoner not only the well-chiseled and polished prose of a modern classicist but a rather ruthless understanding of characters, their deep contradictions and inconsistencies, and their heroic and base natures.

"How contrary an animal is man ... !" exclaimed Augustus at one point. The book is a theater of human contrariness and inconsistency. Its cinematic scenes have the heft of an epic. Wonderful to see the action develop from the volley of hand delivered letters. I suppose the snappy emails of today have nothing on the deliberate transcription of experiences written by hand on a blank page. The novel's sequencing of letters alone is informed by the craft of a builder of suspense. The privileged peeks at human quirks and spontaneous madness are worth the price of reading. Without the televisual prompts, the novel enacts an intelligent game of thrones.

The quote above is from a letter of Octavius Caesar (Augustus) to Nicolaus of Damascus, dated A.D. 14. Here's another clip, from an earlier letter by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) to Sextus Propertius, 10 B.C.:

I shall not subject you, my dear Sextus, to one of my disquisitions; but it seems to me more nearly true, as the years pass, that those old "virtues," of which the Roman professes himself to be so proud, and upon which, he insists, the greatness of the Empire is founded—it seems to me more and more that those "virtues" of rank, prestige, honor, duty, and piety have simply denuded man of his humanity.

How Ovid was able to come up with a bleak assessment of civilization lies at the core of this historical novel. It is a brilliant aphoristic text, especially the essential Book III, and I am here resisting the urge to ransack the many scintillating passages I've noted on my copy.

Powerful and literary figures of the day populate the book. Julius Caesar, Cicero, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Ovid, Livy, Brutus, and Horace. Their relations play out in a stunning display of hunger for power and immortality.

In Stoner the novelist classified the rubric of love under its different objects, as love of literature, love of a woman, love of an offspring, love of work, love of life. In Augustus the same loves are explored but has expanded to include other forms: the love of country, love of family, and love of power. The love of literature is particularly traced to the love of philosophy, scholarship, and poetry. But above all to poetry. Hence, the poets in this novel have a role that transcends versification. Theirs is a function related to the maintenance of power in the empire.

Through the character of the charismatic emperor, Williams comes close to establishing a hierarchy of these loves. At a very high price, Augustus comes close to recognizing "the highest form of love ... for an object that approaches the absolute." He also comes close to identifying the essential attribute of a true leader, the key to fulfilling a destiny.

The character of Augustus is a direct ancestor of Stoner. Only, Augustus comes face to face with the violent, world-changing upheavals that Stoner plays in his mind. The emperor, like the professor, is given to self-reflection. What he always finds in himself is not a wholesome person. What he finds in others is not enlightened citizens. What is said of him by Mark Antony, his perennial rival to power, is accurate: "I know that he does nothing from passion or whim. He is such a cold-blooded fish that I must almost admire him". From one Machiavellian leader to another, that is as good as an acknowledgement of the complex well-rounded character of the emperor, his cunning and intelligence. Of what the human race has achieved in his time, Augustus is not optimistic.

We tell ourselves that we have become a civilized race, and with a pious horror we speak of those times when a god of the crops demanded the body of a human being for his obscure function. But is not the god that so many Romans have served, in our memory and even in our time, as dark and fearsome as that ancient one? Even if to destroy him, I have been his priest; and even if to weaken his power, I have done his bidding. Yet I have not destroyed him, or weakened his power. He sleeps restlessly in the hearts of men, waiting to rouse himself or to be aroused. Between the brutality that would sacrifice a single innocent life to a fear without a name, and the enlightenment that would sacrifice thousands of lives to a few that we have named, I have found little to choose.

This is a very wise novel if only because it underlines life's crucial paradoxes and the compromises, traditions, and belief systems we can never escape from. If Augustus has no faith in a Roman god or an ancient god, then in humanity at least his trust is not completely revoked. He himself, as shaper of destinies, is part of this remaking.

It was more nearly an instinct than knowledge, however, that made me understand that if it is one's destiny to change the world, it is his necessity first to change himself. If he is to obey his destiny, he must find or invent within himself some hard and secret part that is indifferent to himself, to others, and even to the world that he is destined to remake, not to his own desire, but to a nature that he will discover in the process of remaking.

In this novel of power, the novelist has hardly changed the world. Yet in registering the changes in his characters as they take over the world, he has remade it.

08 September 2012

Mondo Marcos, and a martial law fiction reading list

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, edited by Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Walang subersibo dito. Bakit magiging subersibo ang katotohanan?
(There's nothing subversive here. Why will the truth be considered subversive?)
Dekada '70

Mondo Marcos is an anthology of short fiction, essays, and poems looking back on the years 1972-1986, when the Philippines was under the iron rule of the dictator president Ferdinand Marcos right up to his ouster by the People Power Revolution of 1986. It is a companion volume to the Filipino anthology of the same title and with the same editors. The writings in these two volumes are distinct from each other, not translations.

I maintain my impressions of the Filipino anthology, and I think that these apply as well to this volume. The two Mondo Marcos anthologies are a mixed set of writings, particularly the fiction section where brilliant works sat alongside the humdrum.

But the editors certainly knew how to put their best pieces up front. The English anthology started with an outstanding story ("When Dovie Moans") written by R. Zamora Linmark, just like what they did in the Filipino volume where they started with the eye-opening "Kulto ni Santiago" by Kristian S. Cordero. Linmark's story was about a crude aspect of the "Marcosian" – the president's maintenance of his macho public image through his publicized sexual relationship with his mistress. The story was taken from Linmark's novel Leche which came out last year. On the strength of this excerpt, Leche immediately landed on my wish list.

Another wonderful, and linguistically playful, story from the collection was the one from Cesar Ruiz Aquino, "The Diaries of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete". The influence of Borges was evident in this story's imaginative, intertextual, and metaphysical handling of the epistolary form, creating effective layers of inquiry from the journal entries of a writer who was seemingly shielded from the reach of history. I would bet there are plenty more contemporary stories by Filipino writers that were as good, if not as better, as these by Aquino, Cordero, and Linmark. Their stories made me doubly aware of my neglect of excellent writings right here at home.

"Engine Trouble" by Robert J. A. Basilio Jr. had all the makings of an absorbing suspense story. It was about a man hired to assassinate the senator and once political prisoner Benigno Aquino Jr. Despite a promising material, the pedestrian language of the story failed to capture a sense of inevitability to the plot. His use of bland metaphors partly hampered its telling. But overall I still found it a good short story. It's my third favorite in the volume. The rest of the stories did not engage me as these ones I mentioned. There was, to me, a sense that the remaining pieces fell prey to either too little effort at imagination or too much nostalgia (i.e., the pining for popular childhood television fares of the period, like robot cartoons). In fact, popular culture seemed to be the entry point of some of the stories, essays, and poems in the two anthologies. Nothing wrong with that; a totally valid approach. But then again, capitalizing on these familiar markers without saying anything new creates a danger of trivializing the imaginative experiences in a critical historical period like the Martial Law years. If all that the filters of memory could provide were itemized lists of cultural references, they worked less as powerful synthesis of injustice than as misplaced nostalgia.

Regarding the essays and poems in the volume, I would say that, like the ones contained in the Filipino volume, those included here were particularly strong. The variety of subjects in the personal essays alone formed a very balanced view of an era fraught with personal and collective disappointments and hopes. The essays, and a good proportion of the poems, saved the two anthologies from being mere exercises in nostalgia. They were not only informative and personal. Their very tones were critical. And the critiques did not end with the past. They went beyond their years, beyond being "Marcos Babies" of their time, to speak their minds to contemporary readers.

* * *

Reading Mondo Marcos at least spurred me to searching out other works that imagined this "world", this era. It motivated me to explore works of fiction based on, inspired by, or set during the martial law years in the Philippines. So I came up with the list of "martial law in fiction" below.

The list was confined to fiction because for me there is something in the imaginative frame of fiction that sets it apart from other genres. There is that strong element, let us say the sympathetic element, that enables the novelist (or short story writer) to critically, conscientiously imagine characters, their class status, plot, setting, time frame, and their interplay beyond the field of the novelist's own experiences. There is in fiction a more pronounced application of empathy. In her selflessness, the (ideal) novelist seeks a fair amount of altruism as she builds her fictional system. These are what I want to look for in martial law fiction: sympathy, empathy, altruism.

Another thing, perhaps the main thing, why I'm particularly curious about going through this reading list is that I am a part of this period. I belong to this period and yet I do not know it. I am a "Marcos baby", in sickness and in health. Whether that collective name is appropriate or something necessary to adopt, I can't say for now. In any case, having been born in a province a safe distance from Manila, the seat of political power, I grew up in my own world ignorant of many things that happened during the martial law years. I grew up in the shadow of this time. I had never been an active participant. I knew learned the basic story, but I felt left out. I wanted to know the finer details, the living stories, the unexpurgated history.

I was particularly inspired in this direction by W. G. Sebald whose essay "Air War and Literature", in On the Natural History of Destruction, was a stinging critique of the inability of German writers to write about air bombings in postwar Germany. Like Sebald, Anna Funder, in her revealing work about the reign of the German Democratic Republic in Stasiland, defined the primary role of political literatures to preserve memory and reveal the atrocities and abuses of a repressive regime. Filipino writers during and after the Marcos administration had fortunately several works, more than 40 books, to show for it. Key works on the subject were published during the tumultuous period itself. More impressive was that the writers are still not bored with the topic. The dictatorship of Marcos is still being mined and related fictional works have appeared in the past few years. Our writers are still writing about the martial law. And we are prompted to ask: how good are they? How true are they? Which ones contribute to a critical understanding of the Marcos years? Which ones deserve to be read?

This brings me to another motivation for this long term reading project. I am also interested in the ways a certain work dramatized its "aesthetics of resistance", estetika ng paglaban (after Peter Weiss's novel). What is the framework behind a writer's story, behind her prose style and compositional choices? Why did she write it in the first place? What did she want to accomplish with it? More important: what should the reader look for, or look out for, in judging the truth values of writings of this kind?

I seldom read fiction under the lens of literary theories and political ideologies, especially in those works falling under the rubric of "national literatures". But now it appears they can't be escaped when one was primarily faced with political novels. The discontent of the working class beginning in the 1960s, their labor movements, was said to be one of the reasons for the declaration of Martial Law in '72. Novels during and prior to the martial law, in the '60s up to the early '70s, supposedly had strong emphases on political and power structures. They were said to be characteristic of the period of unrest which culminated in the First Quarter Storm of 1970. So the struggle of the proletariat, along with modern forms of colonialism, is one robust framework to gauge the quality and success of these works.

Other reasons for this reading list and reading project:
– the nonfiction list is very long; most of the nonfiction books were voluminous and boring; a handful of them were propaganda materials
– a good excuse to read more from the Filipiniana shelf
– Writers who wrote and assimilated their critical writings during martial law must be given their due. They were a brave bunch. They wrote at a time when activists (including writers, journalists, and students) who opposed and resisted the military dictatorship were harassed, jailed, and tortured. Some were 'salvaged'. Others went into exile. Some were forcibly 'disappeared'. Their writings were either censored or banned. But then again, the novelist F. Sionil José said in one of his essays something about the complicity of several writers with the Marcos regime. Then again some writers opted to keep silent, or to write 'harmless' novels that did not offend the government. But only those writers who resisted the injustices of the dictatorship through their actions and writings, those who essayed the plight of the victims and the underdogs, have claims to being called real Filipino artists. With this reading project I hope to be acquainted with them through their books.

The list below is a work in progress. My online search for titles was rather cursory. I got great suggestions from online friends and reading sites. Thanks to Karlo, among others. The titles are limited only to fiction in English and Filipino languages. My cut-off date is 1971, a year before Proclamation 1081 declaring martial law 40 years ago, in September 21, 1972.

I have only read four titles from the list: Cave and Shadows, Lualhati Bautista's defining novel Dekada '70, and the Mondo Marcos anthologies. Four more titles are currently on my shelf; a few more are accessible to me. Many titles are still found in bookstores but some texts may already be out of print.

The years given refer to the date of the first edition. I wanted to include only works that explicitly deal with the Marcos dictatorship, but that would be a very limited list. Thus, I included some titles that can also be considered “martial law fiction” in terms of metaphor and in their verisimilitude and background. Further suggestions are welcome.

MARTIAL LAW IN FICTION (updated April 2014)

Lagablab ng Kabataan (Fire of Youth) by Fausto J. Galauran (1971)

Madilim ang Langit sa Bayan Ko (Dark Are the Skies Over My Country) by Mercedes Jose (Liwayway Magazine, 1971)

Ano Ngayon, Ricky? (What Now, Ricky?, 1971), in Kung Wala na ang Tag-araw / Ano Ngayon, Ricky? by Rosario de Guzman-Lingat (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996)

Mga Buwaya sa Lipunan (Crocodiles in Society) by Celso Al. Carunungan (1971)

Satanas sa Lupa: Nobelang Pangkasalukuyan (Satan on Earth: A Novel of the Present) by Celso Al. Carunungan (1971)

Nangalunod sa Katihan (Drowned in the Shallows) by Fausto Galauran and Gervasio Santiago (1971)

Mga Kaluluwa Sa Kumunoy (Souls in the Cesspit) by Efren R. Abueg (1972; reprinted by University of the Philippines (UP) Press, 2004)

Panakip-Butas (A Poor Substitute) by Benjamin Pascual (1972)

Sigwa: Isang Antolohiya ng Maiikling Kuwento (Storm: Anthology of Short Stories), eds. Mila Carreon Laurel et al. (1972; reprinted by UP Press, 2007)

Canal de la Reina (1972) by Liwayway A. Arceo (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1985)

Ito ang Rebolusyon (This Is Revolution) by Clodualdo del Mundo and Gervasio Santiago (1972)

My Brother, My Executioner by F. Sionil José (1973)

Ginto ang Kayumangging Lupa (This Brown Soil Is Golden) by Dominador Mirasol (1975; reprinted by UP Press, 1998)

Dread Empire by Linda Ty-Casper (Heinemann, 1980)

Hulagpos (Breaking Free) by Mano de Verdades Posadas (Palimbagang Kubli, 1980)

The Apollo Centennial by Gregorio C. Brillantes (1980)

Utos ng Hari at Iba Pang Kuwento (King's Behest and Other Stories) by Jun Cruz Reyes (New Day, 1981)

Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh by Antonio R. Enriquez (University of Queensland Press, 1981)

The Praying Man by Bienvenido N. Santos (Cellar Book Shop, 1982; New Day, 1982)

Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin (National Book Store, 1983)

Mass by F. Sionil José (Solidaridad Publishing House, 1983)

The Monsoon Collection by Ninotchka Rosca (1983)

Dekada ’70 by Lualhati Bautista (Jingle Clan, 1984; Carmelo & Bauermann Print Corp., 1988)

Fortress in the Plaza by Linda Ty-Casper (New Day, 1985)

Awaiting Trespass by Linda Ty-Casper (Readers International, 1985)

Lumpen by Federico Licsi Espino Jr. (Limbagang Araro, 1985)

Wings of Stone by Linda Ty-Casper (Readers International, 1986)

Subanons by Antonio R. Enriquez (1986; UP Press, 1999)

Tutubi, Tutubi, 'Wag Kang Magpahuli Sa Mamang Salbahe (Dragonfly, Dragonfly, Don't Get Caught by a Bad Guy) by Jun Cruz Reyes (New Day, 1987)

A Small Party in a Garden by Linda Ty-Casper (Cellar Book Shop, 1988)

Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café by Alfred Yuson (Adriana Print Co., 1988; revised ed., UP Press, 1998)

State of War by Ninotchka Rosca (W.W. Norton, 1988)

Planet Waves by Eric Gamalinda (New Day, 1989)

Bamboo in the Wind by Azucena Grajo Uranza (Vera-Reyes, 1990)

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn (Pantheon Books, 1990)

Slow Burn by Sabina Murray (1990)

Sebyo by Humberto Carlos (Linang, 1990)

Gera (War) by Ruth Firmeza (LINANG/Mainstream, 1991)

Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda (Anvil, 1992)

Killing Time in a Warm Place by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. (Anvil, 1992)

Salvaged Prose by Emannuel Lacaba (Ateneo de Manila University, 1992)

Twice Blessed by Ninotchka Rosca (Norton, 1992)

Viajero by F. Sionil José (Solidaridad Publishing House, 1993)

Writings in Protest, 1972-1985, ed. Alfrredo Navarro Salanga (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1993)

Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai (Headline Book Publishing, 1997)

America's Boy by James Hamilton-Paterson (Granta, 1998) – history/nonfiction

The Umbrella Country by Bino Realuyo (Random House, 1999)

Edad Medya: Mga Tula sa Katanghaliang Gulang (Edad Medya: Poems on Middle Age) by José F. Lacaba (Anvil, 2000)

Paghuhunos (Shedding Skin) by Ellen L. Sicat (UP Press, 2001)

Walo at Kalahating Dekada ng Isang Buhay (Eight and a Half Decades of a Life) by Genoveva Edroza-Matute (Anvil, 2001)

Kung Baga sa Bigas: Mga Piling Tula (As With the Rice: Selected Poems) by José F. Lacaba (UP Press, 2002)

Letters to Montgomery Clift by Noel Alumit (MacMurray & Beck, 2002)

Mata ng Apoy (Fire's Eyes) by Domingo G. Landicho (UP Press, 2003)

Tilad na Dalit (Mga Piling Tula: 1973-1999) (Palindrome: Selected Poems: 1973-1999) by Teo T. Antonio (UP Press, 2003)

Banyaga: A Song of War by Charlson Ong (Anvil, 2006)

The Jupiter Effect by Katrina Tuvera (Anvil, 2006)

Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista (Cacho Publishing House, 2007)

Baby Jesus Pawn Shop by Lucia Orth (Permanent Press, 2008)

Martial Law Babies by Arnold Arre (Nautilus Comics, 2008) – graphic

Lihim ng Ultramar (Secret of Ultramar) by Rhod V. Nuncio (Numina, 2009)

XXth Century: 2 Plays by Malou Jacob (UP Press, 2009)

Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol (Anvil, 2010)

Mondo Marcos: Mga Panulat sa Batas Militar at ng Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010)

Underground Spirit: Philippine Short Stories in English 1973 to 1989, 2 vols., ed. Gémino Abad (UP Press, 2010)

The Activist by Antonio Enriquez (UST Publishing House, 2011)

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark (Coffee House Press, 2011)

Further reading: Alternative Histories: Martial Law Novels as Counter-Memory by Ruth Jordana Luna Pison (UP Press, 2005), “Against the Dying of the Light: The Filipino Writer and Martial Law” by Ed Maranan, and The Opposing Thumb: Decoding Literature of the Marcos Regime by Leonard Casper (Giraffe Books, 1995).