Saturday, November 10, 2007

'Read novels, dear friends'

He has a point, you know.

“As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people's living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism. Imagining the other will make you not only a better businessperson or a better lover but even a better person.

Part of the tragedy between Jew and Arab is the inability of so many of us, Jews and Arabs, to imagine each other. Really imagine each other: the loves, the terrible fears, the anger, the passion. There is too much hostility between us, too little curiosity.

Jews and Arabs have something essential in common: They have both been handled, coarsely and brutally, by Europe's violent hand in the past. The Arabs through imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and humiliations. The Jews through discrimination, persecution, expulsion and ultimately mass murder on an unprecedented scale.

One would have thought that two victims, and especially two victims of the same oppressor, would develop between them a sense of solidarity. Alas, this is not the way it works, neither in novels nor in life...

Read novels, dear friends. They will tell you much.”

-- from Amos Oz's acceptance speech in Spain for the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. Mr. Oz is an Israeli novelist and essayist.

Has any novel or work of fiction changed your view about a person, a culture, a country? Tell us about it here. The best comment/entry, long or short, will get a freebie. Promeese!

PLUS: Jessica Hagedorn (“Dogeaters,” “Gangsters of Love,” “Dream Jungle”) will be on Boy Abunda's “Private Conversations” tonight, 9 p.m. on ANC. On Friday, Nov. 16, at the RCBC Theater lobby, she will sign books before the opening of “Dogeaters" (the play), directed by Bobby Garcia. I get my chance to interview Ms. Hagedorn on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Pressure, pressure!

This isn't the first time I'm meeting the famous author. While she was here in November 2003 to launch her new novel, “Dream Jungle,” we at Inquirer Lifestyle did a Playtime interview with her. Money quote among many:

“'Dogeaters' was nominated for the National Book Awards. What do you think is the reason only a few Filipino writers have penetrated the American literary mainstream, unlike Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston or Gus Lee?

I don't know. I think it's a question [that should be asked] of someone like [Carlos] Bulosan or Ben Santos, [both of whom] are available in the US and who are such great writers. I really don't know... I'm not the right person to ask, because I think they are as good as...

It's always an uphill battle, even for me. It's a struggle, because I'm also considered a literary writer. Literary fiction--it's 'artsy-fartsy.' I'm not writing what they call 'supermarket fiction,' nor do I want to. Correct? There's a whole marketing thing with literary writers as opposed to commercial writers. They are not really promoting you as much as they would Tom Clancy. I mean, Amy Tan is a commercial writer.”

[Photo: Bruce Reyes-Chow]


Lalon said...

I couldn't agree more.

Literature humanizes/moralizes people more than any other religion can.

I really like "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. It tells us the very basic yet substantial definition of "stand up for what you believe in".

Locally, 'Dekada '70' by Lualhati Bautista remains on top of my list. The story beams with a very remarkable story (unbiased of Martial Law events) that teaches us the most important lesson that Filipinos should know, "loving your country is everyone's responsibility". It also glances us a thought that we should be a 'nation' first, above anything else.

Mojo Potato said...

literature plays an important role in my life because it breaks all the barriers of one's imagination...I wish Icould see Ms. Jessica too...ang layo ko kasi eh...

BTW, my favorite novel for this year is Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore because Murakami is so compelling and never fails to bewilder his readers with his comical plot.

Locally, Charlson Ong's Banyaga is always a delightful read...

take care!

mitsuru said...

hmmm, it seems that you're quite busy nowadays ha?

that amoz oz article, kinua mo pa sa baul mo ano. he-he.

btw, i got his "where the jackals howl and other stories" from a nat'l book store sale
for 5 bucks in '97, i think. :)

p.s. nakua mo na palan su ipinadara ko?

beektur said...

The reason why Filipino and Fil-Am writers have not penetrated the American market is that Filipinos do not read them -- or even just buy their books. The Vikram Chandras, Vikram Seths, Ha Jins and Amy Tans have been popular reads not so much because they write well (they do) but they are read well (or at least bought well) -- first by their compatriots, which generated a domino effect on the general readership. There is a rich harvest of Fil-Am writers attempting to tell varied experiences of Filipinos in and in relation to America: Ninotchka Rosca, Pater Bacho, Han Ong, Evelina Galang, Brian Ascalon Roley, Bino Realuyo, Eileen Tabios, Nick Carbo, Luis Francia, Eric Gamalinda, Linda Ty-Casper, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and the perennially dependable, Bienvenido Santos, Jose Garcia Villa, Carlos Bulosan and the critic E. San Juan, Jr. (BTW, the former National Midweek contributor Benjamin Pimentel now writes for San Francisco Examiner and Fatima V. Lim is somewhere in the US teaching). But who reads them? It may look like a chicken-egg quandary but in the end, publishers would only publish what appeared demanded by the market and therefore profitable. This is tragic, considering there are around three million Filipinos in America. That is why the works of Carbo, Gamalina, Tabios et al are issued only by small independent publishers or university presses which are either funded by endowments or alumni grants but have no resources nor mechanisms for marketing and promotions.

Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere had been reissued by Penguin Classics (!) last year and your favorite F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales saga had been reissued by Random House’s Modern Library. But how many Filipinos in America buy them? Without this readership, how many publishers will be interested to pursue a money-losing venture? It is all about readership, which translates to profits.

Hagedorn and Rosca had been lucky to enter the reading market during the time of EDSA, when curiosity about the Philippines had been provoked. But so far, I have met more non-Filipinos than Filipinos with whom I can discuss their books. The Filipinos I met would rather talk about Judy Ann Santos or Piolo Pascual. Heaven knows how many Nolis – alright even Jose books -- I had purchased to just to give away and let my Filipino and non-Filipino friends know Filipinos can write too; that we are not only good at karaoke and melodramas.

In the end, the real tragedy is that Filipino and Fil-Am writers continue to be mad roaring prophets, shouting with their hoarse voices only to make a voice in this wide American wilderness. But just like the prophets of the ancient days, their voices are hardly acknowledged by their countrymen.

(BTW, Marisa de los Santos had been in the bestseller list after Dutton marketed extensively her book and after words went around that Sarah Jessica Parker optioned her novel. It was a decent novel, a chick-lit equivalent of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge – with its references to Hollywood romantic movies, sans Vidal’s kinky ideas. But de los Santos, a first generation Fil-Am is a much better poet. Interesting that Filipinos are only hearing about her now, much after the rest of America has read her. In the cases of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish and Latin-American writers, it is the other way around. But then again, Lea Salonga’s talent was only acknowledge by most Filipinos after she was ‘discovered’ by West End.)

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