Two gentlemen, Dean Francis Alfar and Sarge Lacuesta, venture in a project to publish the best Filipino fiction and they nail it. Rather than engage the blogosphere in the polemics of Dutertesism, why not engage these gentlemen and write about their fine harvest? Just a word of caution, every reading is an opportunity for misreading, but never mind as long as we enjoy it.
1. The "Auroras" by Sasha Martinez is about arrivals, departures, welcomings, homecomings, lost loves, found loves, destruction, and reconstruction with a post-war historical cast of characters who lived through it all. I labored all afternoon, Google in hand, finding out the characters who had a modern-day online presence: Armi Kuusela, the first Ms. Universe from Finland who married a Filipino banker, Gil Hilario -- albeit Gil is not in this story as it ends just as Armi is about to go to Baguio where she would subsequently meet Gil in a blind date -- and, Colonel Manuel Nieto, the be-moustached aide-de-camp of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, subject of teen-ager's crush and a sort of forbidden love by Aurora, the narrator, yes -- he's real too. Celebrated personalities come to an afternoon tea party to welcome Ms. Universe and I was fully convinced this is a record of the actual event. Just then, the unabashed congressman who declared himself the only one eligible among the Filipino gentlemen smitten by Ms. Universe, makes an appearance close to the end of the story. A few clicks and I learned this is the same guy who faked his war medals and looted the bureaucracy.
2. Of course, as a work of fiction, the story has to earn its merit without the aid of external elements — and it does so beautifully in a language that is often hypnotic. Yet, this is part of the fun in historical fiction, recognizing how the written points to the unwritten and delighting at how the written shows the world lurking beneath this lyrical tapestry. The story understates much of the historical detail, making it all the more intriguing. I'm particularly fascinated with Colonel Manuel Nieto's story about the bear, the last one in Luzon said to have hidden in a cave at the edge of Intramuros. The bear raged as the Spaniards partied and prayed each night. It is the story within a story, a metaphor for what was once native to the island, hopelessly and foolishly resisting the inevitable excursions of and intrusions to the Filipino soul. Yet, the bear is gone and Aurora, the narrator, declares herself to have become the woman of the world. Having married Jakob, the brother of Armi Kuusela, Aurora will bear children who "will be most assuredly blonde, and not improbably blue-eyed.” And close to the end, she muses about her lost love, the Colonel and his story about the bear with things having gone full circle. There are four Auroras here: the wife of Manuel L. Quezon, the flowers named by the hotel gardener after her, the narrator named Aurora, who leaves an old love and brings home a new one, and the Roman goddess of dawn who layers this fictive world, as it starts and ends, with the colors of a new beginning. Ganda!