Quick takes from the Philippines

So, 2020, huh?

I thought about writing a little cap to the year–something about being stuck at home with two small children during an international pandemic, and the wildfires here in California, and unchecked white supremacists driving the country to the brink of civil war but…you get it. You’re all there, more or less (except you lucky bastards who live in New Zealand and are going to have to deal with a sudden influx of immigrants once we’re finally allowed to go anywhere), so I don’t have to tell you what it’s like. Suffice it to say, my brain is pretty fried after the past ten months, and while I’m still reading, not much of it is medieval epic poetry from Southeast Asia. I’ve been working my way through the Khun Chang Khun Phaen, a seminal work of Thai literature, since last February. I managed to get through the novels on my Thai reading list and have tentatively moved on to Myanmar/Burma, but mostly I’ve been reading the collected works of N.K. Jemisin and Octavia Butler, with occasional forays into YA dystopian fantasy. I don’t have the wherewithal to write long screeds about individual books that I read in 2018, and I suspect few people would have the attention span to read them right now anyway. So here are my thoughts on a whole bunch of books from the Philippines, in short format. Maybe I’ll come back to one or two of these later, but for now I just want to get them down and move on. Let’s do this.

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What I’m Reading: coronavirus edition

You would think that being forced to stay home all the time would mean more time for reading, writing, and blog posting but I haven’t found it to be the case. I mean, maybe if you added up all the time I’ve spent reading headlines and statistics over the past two weeks it would end up being equivalent to Ivanhoe, but finding the time and focus to read any of the four Thai novels I started last month has proved difficult.

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Reading update

I haven’t posted a reading update in a while because I haven’t been reading that much. I’ve mostly been very slowly plugging away at Four Reigns this week (ok, that’s not entirely true. I’ve MOSTLY been grudge-reading P.D. James novels on my kindle in the middle of the night while waiting for my baby to fall back asleep, but that is beyond the scope of this particular reading project). It’s pleasant reading but not exactly a page-turner; mostly a nostalgic depiction of a bygone era.

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Awaiting Trespass, State of War, and Gun Dealers’ Daughter: Stories of fear and resistance in the Marcos era

Awaiting Trespass, Linda Ty-Casper, 1985

State of War, Ninotchka Rosca, 1988

Gun Dealers’ Daughter, Gina Apostel, 2010

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Every reference to food in F. Sionil José’s “Dusk”

There is an overwhelming preoccupation with food in this book. Part of this is emblematic of the central characters’ struggle and drive to survive: as refugees, the food they bring and gather to see them through their flight is crucial, as is the prospect of what they will grow and eat when they finally arrive. José’s repeated assertions that “they were Ilokanos—they would not starve anywhere” and “Ilokanos can eat what other people cannot,” are both a descriptive and symbolic. The industrious and persevering Ilocano characters of the book are set in contrast with the overbearing but sloppy Spanish rulers who make their lives so miserable and who, ironically, dismiss all “indios” (native Filipinos) as lazy and stupid. “As for patience and industry,” José writes, “they were Ilokanos born to these virtues—it was in their blood, in the very air they breathed.” Istak and his family are resourceful and resilient, overcoming hardship and scarcity to carve a new life for themselves.

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