Names and words have power. (Those who, for whatever reason, donâ€™t like to read are depriving themselves of additional potencyâ€”more nutrition for the mind and the soul, if you will.) For example, a friend of mine jokingly said that the name of this column, â€śInkcanto,â€ť was magical. That made me laugh.
After all, if this column really has magical powers, it would be able to magnetize and enchant the sexiest woman in the Philippines into loving it.
Wow. Names and words have power. Start reading now.
If youâ€™re a Filipino and you havenâ€™t read any book by a Filipino author then itâ€™s the best time for you discover Philippine Literatureâ€”because there really is such a thing, you know. If you read the books featured here, youâ€™d be doing yourself a favor.
Dumot by Alan Navarra (Visprint, Inc.). According to the author, â€śdumotâ€ť is a Hiligaynon word that means â€śvindictivenessâ€ť. Itâ€™s alsoâ€”again, according to the authorâ€”a pun on the French word â€śdu mot,â€ť which means, â€śthe word.â€ť
Dumot is a very angry book. But, unlike another very angry book, Mondomanila by Norman Wilwayco, the formerâ€™s anger is directed at contemporary urban/corporate life. Mondomanila, you may say, more squarely directs its anger over social inequalities and the violence and oppression that the power structure inflicts against the poor. You could say thereâ€™s even a â€śrighteousâ€ť anger to it.
By comparison, Dumot is more, well, intellectual and formal (as in â€śformâ€ť) in its approach. Thereâ€™s only the flimsiest thread of a â€śplotâ€ť and even then, thatâ€™s presented as a vague suggestion. All thatâ€™s hinted at is how the bookâ€™s protagonist, Michael Perez, is resigning out of disgust from his companyâ€”perhaps especially because his boss is an insufferable, clueless, narcissistic prick.
That said, Dumot employs, among its arsenal of devices, letters, memos, e-mails, bulleted information, and illustrations rendered with manic concentricity. For Michael Perez, itâ€™s not simply Filipino lifeâ€™s unrelenting privations that royally piss him off: rather, its superficial triteness in everyoneâ€™s response to these thatâ€™s rage-inducing. Itâ€™s a superficiality that dehumanizes precisely those who are already too vapid to careâ€”and so these non-people who defaulted on their humanity are deserving and easy targets for his ire. For Michael Perez, to be angry is to be human.
Navarra does an excellent job in finding a form for his workâ€”thereâ€™s an artful craftiness to the bookâ€™s combination of verbal and visual elements that make it an engaging read. The overall design gives a grey gun-metal, steely elegance to his wordsâ€”and while critic Angelo Suarez calls attention to the book as being â€śdesign for designâ€™s sake,â€ť as a reader I would call attention to the excellence of Navarraâ€™s writing: his quick, precisely-aimed bursts of language are perfect for rendering literary art to a generation now more used to reading FB statuses, Tweets, instant messages and inter-office memos sent online.
After the Body Displaces Water by Daryll Delgado (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House) is a short story collection that can be considered as feminist writingâ€”but without the heavy-handed, blunt-object-to-the-head politics. The main character in most of Delgadoâ€™s stories is a woman. These women find themselves in rather interesting situations.
In â€śConversation,â€ť the two main characters are lovers, a man and a woman, who remain nameless throughout the story. Theyâ€™re both quite drunk. The man, in fact, is carrying empty bottles of soda and brandy in a plastic bag. Then the woman essentially flips out. Clearly she has issues. Is it because she wants to have kids and, for some reason, they donâ€™t?
Another story I liked (perhaps my favorite in the collection) is â€śIn remissionâ€ť, about a woman who decides to get away from everyone and everythingâ€”her well-paying career, her friends, her familyâ€”after sheâ€™s diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, a one-night stand with a waiter has consequences that make her re-think her previous resolve to die alone.
Delgadoâ€™s â€śSummer with scouts, pirates and pregnant ratsâ€ť is a joyride through the main characterâ€™s nostalgia for her lost youth. Thereâ€™s a scene where she has rather desultory sex with her boyfriendâ€”sheâ€™s distracted because sheâ€™s worried about a big, disgusting rat loose in the house.
Delgadoâ€™s prose comes through as clearly as a bell in a Zen monastery, and she knows how to create scenes and details that pack emotional truth. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, especially those parts in her stories where the sense of time gets fuzzy and (seemingly) breaks down, turning the narratives into stranger stuff approaching the vagariesâ€”and the sensuous intimaciesâ€”of memory.
Ultraviolins by Khavn (University of the Philippines Press) is a spectacle of derangement that you simply must experience. The stories were originally written in Tagalog but all are provided with English translations.
In the book, you will meet loveable characters like Buynok, who performs in a carnival. His act? He eats live chickens. See what happens when, one night, instead of a live chicken, the mythical Ibong Adarna falls into Buynokâ€™s hands.
You will also see a story title like â€śThe rapist in my heartâ€ť while another story is titled â€śdedbolâ€ť (which is Tagalog slang for â€śdeadâ€ť)â€”both of them feature violence on a level that is absurd and comical at turns.
If youâ€™re the sort who can only appreciate stories for their â€śmoral lessonsâ€ť then Ultraviolins may shock and disgust youâ€”especially if the only violence you encounter in the books you read is the Twilight or Hunger Games or even the Harry Potter variety.
Khavn, who is a slasherâ€”heâ€™s a filmmaker/poet/fictionist/pianist/singer/songwriterâ€”defies any easy description that one may use to categorize Ultraviolins. And, compared to a lot of so-called post-modern or post-post-modern stuff, Ultraviolins has the pleasant quality of not being boring.
Perhaps it is this non-boringness that spurred acclaimed speculative fiction author Cory Doctorow to take note of â€śThe Family That Eats Soil,â€ť one of Khavnâ€™s stories in the book. Getting noted by Doctorow is no mean feat, considering that heâ€™s been called the William Gibson of his generation.