It deals with the history of the Filipino people, from pre-Spanish (with the
priestesses babaylan who wore gold trinkets & traded with the Chinese) to Spanish (with the friars and other foreigners, such as Germans, who come to this godforsaken land to grab something that is not theirs) to American (with Hey, Joe! and chocolates aplenty) to the current (with the beautiful wife of the Commander-President who wears the shirts of butterfly sleeves).
It also looks into the inner workings of society that is kept from the newspapers – it talks about rebellions, refugees, whores, politics, prophecies, poverty, religion, stupidity, rape, torture, death. It’s a neat view into the progressions of Philippine society from its very roots, and from all levels. (Note: Its setting is concentrated in the Luzon/Manila area, although I’d hazard a guess that K—- is located in The Visayas.)
This book, on the one hand, is beautiful. Its words are like waves crashing, plying the sand, creating beautiful music to the tune of silver bells. Its words are like the rugged drumbeats, playing its sound on rhythmic body movements. Its words are like whispers between lovers after their coupling, holding hands while looking at a future together. The storytelling is seemingly messed up, but calculated to be so. Each event, each leaf, each breath of air is so important to the overall development of the story. It’s breathtaking, just looking at the intricate web formed by the masterful hand of Rosca.
(I am somewhat reminded of Gabriel García Márquez, although I think Rosca’s prose is a little more poignant. Reviewers mention that her work has the tones of Franz Kafka, but as I’ve only read The Metamorphosis, I feel I cannot be a good judge for this.)
This book, on the other hand, is horrendously ugly. It zooms into the sides of us we don’t wish to see. It zooms into the irk and evil in hearts of pristine-looking people. It zooms into the dirt and grime in your hair, on your cheeks, on your skin. It talks about the history of a people who seem to be trying to prove something, while not moving an inch at all. It’s horrifying, just looking at the web of violence within and without, the violence done with, by and for the people.
This is a great book for reminiscing, although try not to turn your head on the parts that could pain your soul (as there are many). If you are up for the challenge, come, let’s go hand-in-hand with Adrian, Eliza and Anna, as they look back into their pasts and dance their lives away in the present. The future can wait, at least until after the Festival.