Dusk, F. Sionil Jose, 1984

  • Philippines, #15
  • Paperback, $2.00 from Half Price Books
  • Read April 2018
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Recommended for: The clear-sighted and warm-hearted

Let me preface this by saying: I am very tired. This morning I made coffee, got out a travel mug, and then instead of filling the mug with coffee I picked up a box of bunny crackers and poured them in (and if you are unfamiliar with bunny crackers, allow me to congratulate you on not having small children). I also turned on the sink to let the water warm up, gave my three year old her toothbrush, and then chastised her for leaving the water running while brushing her teeth because I literally forgot that I had turned the water on less than ten seconds previously. So please forgive me if I am unable to summon the effusiveness I would like in order to describe F. Sionil José’s epic novel Dusk. I will just say that, in a very strong field, this was, hands-down, the best Philippine novel I read.

Los Angeles, 2005

Dusk is the story of Istak, a young Ilocano man who is forced to flee with his family when he runs afoul of the Spanish religious establishment. After many tribulations they are able to found a new village and Istak becomes a faith healer, an occupation which brings him into contact with Apolinario Mabini and the Filipino resistance to both Spanish rule and the incipient American occupation. While the story remains firmly centered on Istak and his family, it also encompasses the transition from Spanish to American rule and the rise of a Philippine national consciousness, managing to be simultaneously a deeply personal narrative of a single human life and an epic tale of the founding of a nation. The prose is so simple as to be almost mythic, and though José does not shy away from the brutality of life among poor Filipinos at the turn of the twentieth century—injustice, brutal and senseless death, and rape are frequent occurrences—there is also a tender humanity to the writing that keeps it from being too bleak. Dusk is the first book (chronologically, though it was the last to be written) in the five-book Rosales saga, which spans the modern history of the Philippines. I have not read the others, but if they’re even half as good as this one, they’re worth a look.

St. Louis, 2005

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