So… Hi. I know it’s been a while since my last update; sorry about that. But I haven’t been idle the past few months. I took the comprehensive exams for my MFA program, worked a lot and worked on a few personal projects, and was just generally out of sorts when it came to everything else. If most people have their “off” days, I certainly have my “off” months.
I also didn’t stick to the plan, reading-wise. Instead of my usual way of going about my backlog with a theme in mind, I just grabbed whatever I saw or had to read for graduate school. In this case, I think it’s best to do what I did back in January 2017: talk about some of what I did read, rundown style, and get on with it already.
This first book on the list was recommended to me by my fiction techniques and literary history professor last term when she found out I’m concentrating on creative nonfiction for my thesis. And when she repeats it twice in as many weeks – sure, I’ll take the advice and head to the library, because it’s obvious the recommendation is well-meant.
Sarena’s Story: The Loss of a Kingdom by Criselda Yabes is quite short at around a hundred pages, so if you want to read it in one sitting, you definitely can. It also has just three chapters: one long non-linear chapter in the titular Sarena’s point of view, and two through her daughter, Taj. All throughout, it delves into topics such as loyalty, duty, intrigue and politicking in royal courts, little-known historical facts, and resilience.
Sarena’s Story is a worthwhile read for two reasons. First, it provides vital knowledge of historical Sulu that isn’t often discussed, researched or written about. We do know that Sulu remained “unconquered” during and after the Spanish/American/Japanese occupations of the Philippines. But the book provides a very different picture of the place, quite unlike the Sulu we know now. Second, the way the story unfolds, you’d think Yabes was writing this from first-hand experience. But no – if Butch Dalisay didn’t clarify that Yabes is Manila-born and bred, I’d believe she was actually Sarena’s daughter. It’s an excellent example of how creative nonfiction can be used to deliver facts and maneuver readers to a certain perspective.
Yep, almost everyone and everything mentioned in this book is REAL. The princesses Piandao and Tarhata, Sultan Umbra Amilbangsa, Datu Tahil… they all existed. And the bombshell near the end (I won’t spoil it; read it for yourself) surprised me, at least. The ending was also a bit forced for me, as if tying everything into a neat little bow.
Also, some notes about Princess Tarhata:
- The part where Princess Tarhata was kidnapped and then forced to marry Datu Tahil made me very angry. But she did marry again, and mounted an effort to take the Sultanate for herself (see FilipiKnow and The Philippine Daily Inquirer). The fact that women cannot be declared sultana was also frustrating (as well as Sarena’s efforts to guilt-trip her daughter by letter – but that’s for another time).
- Tarhata was a kick-ass woman. Unlike Piandao, who was depicted as a forceful ruler with a heavy hand (literally; she liked slapping people on the face with her right shoe), Tarhata was US-educated, unruly and rebellious even in her younger years, and kicked out Tahil’s three other wives from the family home. After Tahil died, she married into the Abedin family of Patikul, and from there, began her claim to the Sultanate.
Reading in progress
Let me make this clear before I continue: I haven’t finished Victor Fernando R. Ocampo‘s The Infinite Library and Other Stories yet. I guess this is more a reminder for myself to finish it if and when I want to. I did get through the first few stories, but so far I haven’t had the chance to go through it in one or two long stretches.
The concept of the first story, “Mene, Thecel, Phares” is cool, though. Our national hero Jose Rizal is a work of fiction by seditious writer Joseph Mercado, currently in exile in an alternate, steampunk-ish and smog-filled version of Berlin and Northern Germany. But the ending is a cop-out: the readers are presented with three options a la board game. And the frequent intermissions of quotes from the past and present, while informative, also wrecked the rhythm of narration/world-building for me.
One more tip: keep the surname “Polzl” in mind. Two characters have it as their surnames in two stories. Is this like Jessica Zafra’s character Jude figuring in five stories in The Stories So Far? If so, this should be interesting.
A friend went to Singapore earlier this year, and bought The Infinite Library and Other Stories from its publisher, Math Paper Press/Books Actually. I’m currently reading her signed copy.
Feeling run down
I’ve talked about Saga several times already, so I won’t delve on this ninth volume too deeply. But what I will say is this: Nine will be the last volume Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples will produce in at least a year, so read this ASAP.
Volume Nine also banks on a lot of the events that happened in previous volumes, so I strongly suggest having your other volumes on hand for easy referencing. I read by volume and not by issue, so I do take this route sometimes because I can go for half a year to a year in between volumes.
It also drives home a point that many readers (including yours truly) seem to miss: the whole saga of Saga isn’t about Alana and Marko; it’s always been about their daughter Hazel. This, plus knowledge of past volumes and the heavy emotional investment readers put in through the years, will make some moments in this volume hit hard. I always say the most recent volume is the best one (except for the one where Alana was pregnant again; I didn’t like that development at all), but Volume Nine is truly intense and heartbreaking. I’m looking forward to Vaughan and Staples returning next year – and seeing whatever new direction they’ll take Saga in after their long hiatus.
Feminist lit starter pack
Looking for a beginner-friendly resource on feminism and literature can be daunting. It definitely was for me; every book I encountered assumed prior knowledge, and were difficult to read.
Thankfully, Pam Morris’ Literature and Feminism: An Introduction isn’t like that at all. Not only is it made specifically for newbies, but she explains things, people, and issues in a way that makes me want to read on and learn more. She isn’t condescending nor assuming – vital when you don’t know where to start with your own work.
The first half of the book presents three methods of resistance. The chapters here talk about how to read and analyze the existing literary canon as a woman, challenging that canon, and knowing about and reviewing works by women. It emphasizes how hidden and ostracized women and women writers were – and still are, in global literature and elsewhere – and how much work has to be done to resurface women writers’ achievements and contributions.
If the first half’s more on literary history, the second half is covered by literary theory (and intertextuality). I’m still reading this book too, so I may add on to this rundown in the future. But I can say this as early as now: if you want a broader view – say, something that includes the Asian perspective and experience a.k.a. postcolonial or transnational feminist literature – look somewhere else. This textbook focuses more on Western literature and canon, but it does provide a good base to work with.
We can analyze and overanalyze a book and an author as much as we want. But getting the deets from the actual author is much better – which makes books like Sarilaysay: Tinig ng 20 Babae sa Sariling Danas Bilang Manunulat (by Rosario Torres-Yu, PhD) a must-read.
A classmate recommended this book to me during my prep for compre (like Sarena’s Story); and despite me reading more slowly in Filipino than in English, this is material that’s quite easy to go through. 20 Filipina writers were interviewed about their known works, motivations and inspirations, their personal lives, and their experiences; then Yu transcribed them and published them as is. The profiles are divided according to “generations” (first, second, and third). The interviews come off as casual conversations rather than strict Q&As, making them fun to go through (e.g., Lualhati Bautista). This is an excellent resource if you’re tracing Philippine literary history and poetics, particularly if you don’t know much about our literature from the early 1900s to before Martial Law.
Similar to Sarena’s Story and Literature and Feminism, I borrowed Sarilaysay from the DLSU Library.
I have nothing else to say about it, other than you really should read it (the price is worth it, I swear!!!); and that you can get it via National Book Store, Fully Booked, and Adarna House. It took me a while to get my own copy because it was sold out everywhere, so do it now.