A WORLD OF PRETENDERS
By Kevin Stoda, Puerta Princesa, Philippines
I was staying in Ermita township this past month when I came across the Solidaridad Bookstore. As I have wanted to familiarize myself with Filipino culture and literature, I went in and browsed the shelves. I noticed a vast number works on the shelves by one F. Sionil Jose, born in 1924 in a small Pangasinan town. (I had traveled to Pangasinan on my honeymoon just this past year.) After perusing several of the Jose novels and non-fiction writings, I asked the attendant which of the many works would be the most exemplary, especially in understanding Filipino culture and history in our present day. I was persuaded to purchase the 4th book in the 5-part Rosales Saga.
This fourth book was entitled, THE PRETENDERS and was originally published the year of my birth, 1962.
An editor's synapses of the novel proclaimed the work to be the story of one Antonio Samson, who is one of "many Filipinos who find themselves lost and betrayed with nowhere to run. But Antonio . . . is not just an Ilocano [northern region of Pangasinan on the Isle of Luzon] looking for his roots; he is also the modern Filipino who fails to act in a society bereft of decency and justice. This novel, "[now 5 decades old], continues to be read because of its contemproaneity and the insights it focuses on the dilemmas of social change. It is also the author's most translated novel."
One of the more remarkable things about reading The Pretenders this summer was how it related to my own journey in life. The Pretenders both (1) mirrored and (2) reverse-mirrored characters and events in my life as well as the life of the main characters in this novel by Jose. More interestingly, because of my family dealings at the US Embassy in Ermita town and in the St. Luke Medical Annex (also in Ermita, a very infamous neighborhood in ManilaCity), I was forced to travel the streets some of the same streets as the main characters traveled as I read Jose's novel, The Pretenders. The brothels, bars, casinos, and love hotels are still there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR--FRANCISCO SIONIL JOSE
Before reviewing the novel, The Pretenders (i.e. in light of my own experience in Ermita town and other parts of the Philippines and planet Earth), allow me to share a little about the author, F. Sionil Jose, and his background. First of all, in 2004, F. Sionil Jose won the Pablo Neruda Centennial Award for Literature. He has also won several other Asian and Filipino writing and journalism awards. Jose, who has written primarily in English, rather than his native language of Ilucano--or any of a dozen languages of the Philippines--, has made a tremendous impact on Asian literature, while often having too little recognition in most corners of his own homeland. (I would be surprised if more than one in ten Filipinos--in or outside the country--could tell you who he is. This may because he is so critical of the local plutocrats in Negros, Mindanao and Luzon.)