The Buru Quartet (Pramoedya Ananta Toer 1980-1988)

“The Buru Quartet” by Penguin Books (1990)
“The Buru Quartet” by Penguin Books (1990)

The Buru Quartet refers to the the volumes Bumi Manusia (“This Earth of Mankind”, 1980) , Anak Semua Bangsa (“Child of All Nations”, 1980), Jejak Langkah (“Footsteps”, 1985) and Rumah Kaca (“Glass House “, 1988). The books were banned by the regime of long time Indonesian president Suharto and his successor B.J. Habibie. The ban was lifted in 2000.

The Quartet establishes Pramoedya as a leading figure in Southeast Asian literature and showcases his mastery of the classical historical realism. The carefully constructed narrative structure and detailed rich descriptions provide a broad overview of the cultural and ethnic diversity of colonial society.

The books tackle the nature of power and how it is balanced by social classes throughout history. They also provide an insight into the relationships between groups identified in the book and guide the reader’s attention on the world outside the former Dutch colony. Pramoedya has shown an deep understanding of the events and developments in the Philippines, Japan, China and the Netherlands, the motherland of the caste of colonial masters. This outlook is remarkable since the book was the result of stories originally told from the prison cell and gathered from memory.

The tension in the novel comes from the inherent conflicts between families, a complex love affair, as well as elements fit for a detective novel. The works primarily trace the life story of the Javanese nobleman Minke between 1898 and 1918. This is told through a first-person narrative in the form of revised diary notes and memoir writing. This technique gives us a peek into the process of political awakening by the protagonists. Minke’s experiences are extraordinary in his time. His radical rejection of colonialism, his aspiration for freedom, equality, and brotherhood, his insistence on self-determination and his commitment for nationalism, appear credible in the novel as the only correct answer the social conditions besetting the colony at the turn of a new century.

This unique place occupied by Minke, makes him, according to the formulation of Australian literary scholar K. Foulcher in the Anthology Culture and Politics in New Order Indonesia (1993) , as a “prototype of the Indonesian intellectual.” Minke is midway between tradition and modernity as well as between individual self-realization and social responsibility. On the way to becoming a revolutionary, Minke meets journalists and initiators of the early nationalist organizations and learns about the experiences of various social groups inside and outside the colony.

The novel’s exposition of the intellectual’s role model function as a journalistic, social reformist and its account of the political activities of the minorities (mestizos, Chinese, Arabs) are diametrically opposed to the common view of Indonesian history. It is very surprising for the reader then when the narrator shifts  in the fourth volume: We are presented with Pangemanann as a first-person narrator. Pangemanann is the only indigenous police commissioner in the colony and is Minke’s main antagonist.

This opens up to the reader a look inside the colonial security service:The fourth and final novel of the series, House of Glass is narrated by Pangemanann, the police commissioner who arranged for Minke’s exile and who has constantly monitored Minke during his time in Ambon. The plot revolves around Pangemanann’s moral conundrum—fulfill his responsibility to identify and imprison rebel leaders, or to join the growing independence movement. Pangemanann becomes obsessed with Minke, who has returned to Indonesia from his exile, after reading three novels that Minke wrote during his isolation—paralleling Pramoedya’s own experiences. Eventually Minke is poisoned by younger revolutionaries, who regard Minke as an ineffective remnant of a past age, and Pangemanann loses his position due to changing political circumstances. Pangemanann cannot, however, the voice of his complete supress the voice of his own conscience. His personal decline, the failure in his marriage and in his non-professional life show him that his victory is hollow, and he is sure that Minkes idealism and historical mission will be continued by others.

Minke does not fail primarily due to the cunning superiority of Pangemanann and the repressive apparatus he represents. A much bigger setback for Minke and his goals is the emergence of Budi Utomo, a Javanese ethnic group aligned and soon dominated by the aristocracy.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer illustrated in his novels the interdependence of colonial power and Javanese nobility.  These are the roots from where the conservative tendencies had sprung and are now the face of the independent Indonesia: a social conservatism, the traditional hierarchies which are yet to be radically challenged, and a tradition-bound concept Nation, which focused on the indigenous people and excluded all other minority.

Pramoedya’s Buru Quarter is thus not just a story about the emergence of a national movement, but at the same time the story of a missed historical opportunity.

Budi Utomo appears as the broader context of Pramoedya’s thoughts. It embodies the sinister link that contributes to the continuation of the pattern of colonial mentality  that have seeped into nationalist circles. The scope of this message becomes clear when one recalls that in the semi-official historiography of the founding of Budi Utomo, it is considered the beginning of the first national movement after which, all pre-existing organizations and movements became marginalized.

Nationalism, democracy and humanity are of paramount importance in Pramoedya’s entire oeuvre. In the 50 years of his career as a write, Pramoedya always abided by these ideals which has placed him in conflict with the changes and developments in the colony,  circumstances which later on became more accepted.

In one of the letters from Buru he says: “Shut up, my heart, do not be sorry to have had dreams, and not to be satisfied with the existing one “. In the 14 years of imprisonment and 19 years of house arrest, Pramoedya has guarded this aspiration. Before his death, Pramoedya has helped in a small private foundation for investigation into the 1965 massacres and other human rights violations, and contributing in small steps to the strengthening of the rule of law and Indonesian democracy.

Literate Gangsters

“BY NIGHT IN CHILE” is another novel discovery by the great Chilean author Roberto Bolaño

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño,  Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)

A mediocre Chilean poet, far more famous as a literary critic and priest, is dying. All his life he had been alone, Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix writes. He then proceeds to a monolithic paragraph of his laborious justification, in which it is unclear what the reproaches are and whom they are raised against. These are just some of the things that would instantly hit you in this dark Chilean noir piece.

The flow of the speech of the narrator produces digressions from digressions and meandering anecdotes, which seem to omit what really happened and are only implied by hints and unreliable narrations. This opens the door to the harsh conjectures: What about the libido of the priest, does he refer to the direct advances of the criticism paper Farewell? What happens when he spends “unforgettable hours” with another clergyman?

Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix is a windmill. Though it is so rough in his life, he will always be haunted by crises, fiasco feelings, and great dreamy misfortune without being able to name reasons.

And the real disaster is not far. The secret center of his eloquence is not the prohibited desire of the priest, but the aestheticist existence of the art critics and artist in politically highly troubled times. During the demonstrations against Salvador Allende, as a shortage and inflation spread, he reads Greek tragedies. When the military putsch is there and killed Allende, he pauses briefly, “a finger between the pages of the book that I read, and thought: What a peace.” And what does the Church do? She sends him to Europe during one of his unexplained crises to investigate how church buildings are damaged by pigeons. And that while Chile is burning.

It is about the obscenity of an existence based purely on art under dictatorship, about the relationship between art (enterprise) and violence, including church and violence. This obscenity culminates in a party of the “Literatengesindelsel”, when a guest finds in the cellar of the Privathaus in the search for the toilet a half-dead tortured: “And the avant-garde theorist quietly closed the door without making noise.”

Even the narrator himself is entangled in the regime as if he were only reading through the clause: upon request, as a fully educated man (and in no case a Marxist), he gave the putschists around General Pinochet tutoring lessons in Marxism-so that they could better understand the enemy.

The path of the author Roberto Bolaño was opposite to his figure. The literary late-only perceived, who barely experienced his international success through his early death in 2003, wanted to help build socialism under Allende, for which he was imprisoned under Pinochet for a short time. Then he left Chile forever, most of the time he lived in Spain. He had to pay the price of the exile.

His books, however, are far from being “engaged” in a pedagogical sense. Bolaño shows reality as surrealistically inspired monstrosity. “Chilean Nightmare” neither uses literature nor denounces it, the novel is the celebration and parody of art at the same time.

Bolaño’s irony sometimes works with strong breaks, but often it is hard to grasp. When the narrator meets Pablo Neruda at a young age, the portrayal of this scene combines his pathos with the author’s irony to a sort of tender mockery of enchantingly slate poetry. The great poet muttered in a deep voice words for no one I could not tell what happened, I was not there, where Neruda, a few yards away, was standing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the night Moon, surrounded by the equestrian statue, the plants, and the shrubbery of Chile, surrounded by the dark dignity of the fatherland. ”

In this friction lies also the art of convincing an ego-narrator as a mediocre poet, and at the same time to have written a glittering book on the highest floors. Over the narrator, in the second paragraph of the book, which consists of a single line, “the hurricane of shit” breaks, the one which he has tried to restrain for 156 pages. Great.


By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (Translator) Paperback, 118 pages Published December 1st 2005 by New Directions (first published November 2000)


Beauty is a wound (Eka Kurniawan, 2015)

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator) Paperback, 470 pages Published September 2015 by New Directions (first published December 12th 2002)
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator) Paperback, 470 pages Published September 2015 by New Directions (first published December 12th 2002)

Hi style is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquéz and William Faulkner, says the New York Times Book Review. “Beauty is a Wound” by Eka Kurniawan is a wild and rousing nightmare about Indonesia’s recent history.

Eka Kurniawan, born 1975 in West Java, is not only novelist, screenwriter and blogger, but also comic artist. And you also notice this in his novel about an Indonesian women’s tribe and their male satellites: extreme figures, strong visual impressions and narrative that runs from one dramatic climax to the other.

At the center is Dewi Ayu, the most popular whore of Halimunda, who gives birth to her fourth daughter without a father at the age of 52. She dies shortly thereafter and resurrects 21 years later.

Dewi Ayu is a colonial child: her parents are half-siblings, her only grandfather is a Dutch plantation owner, who has taken a beautiful young natives to the concubine under threat of violence. The young woman, Dewi’s maternal grandmother, had a lover whom she sees again after a long time; Chased by the henchmen of the jealous Dutchman, she plunges from the top of a mountain – and flies away.

A more brutal magic realism

And just as Ayu Dewi’s existence is a result of colonialism, it continues with her: under Japanese occupation during the Second World War, she is interned as a Dutchwoman and forced to prostitution. In the turmoil of the war of liberation she is brought back to her inheritance and deserves it back: in the brothel. She teams up with soldiers, guerrillas, communists and gangsters. Her daughters are children of demons, she claims. The first three are unusually beautiful and are courted by unusually important men. The eldest loves a communist and is forced to marry by a senior officer. The second loves the same man who escapes the anti-Communist massacre of the 1960s, but then goes to the camp in front of the dogs. The third married as a twelve-year-old the head of the local mafia.

Of course, this novel is not realistic. In some places it is similarly fantastic, brutal, erotic and dreamlike as the early work of García Márquez – but much more drastic. This book is a wild, intoxicating nightmare about Indonesia’s recent history, full of human monsters and evil spirits – characters you will not forget.

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator) Paperback, 470 pages Published September 2015 by New Directions (first published December 12th 2002)

The Kingdom of this World (Alejo Carpentier, 2007)

The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier,  Harriet de Onís (Translation) Paperback, 186 pages Published September 1st 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1949)
The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier, Harriet de Onís (Translation) Paperback, 186 pages Published September 1st 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1949)

The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980) tells of the slave revolts in the Antilles during the French Revolution. Led by Macandal, a black man who can take the form of various animals, the slaves, headed by the bird-man Ti Noel, fight for their freedom; they pit their their belief on miracles and magic against the reason of the whites. On the basis of historical events, the cosmopolitan Alejo Carpentier portrays in a multifaceted way a world that has its own dimension, its own imagination–extending our understanding of various forms of realities.

The protagonists of this fantastic-mystical narrative are almost mythological figures but the harassment they describe here is far from fantasy: stories of how African slaves endured under the rule of the French colonialists in Haiti. Ti Noel, who incidentally also appears in I, Tituba, the black witch of Salem of Maryse Condé, participatee in the first slave revolt on this part of Las Islas Hispaniolas.

Freed from French subjugation, Henri Christophe, a former slave, takes power, but the whip does not depart from him and again maltreats the suffering people and the life of a Negro has become even more worthless than during the oppression by the Whites.

Ti Noel, who also survives this despotism, retreats into the ruined house of his former ruler. He has already lived a hundred years in a dream world, where he would constantly transform into other animals, as new palefaces come. But not one of these new life forms makes him feel comfortable. He remembers the animal alterations of his great role model Macandal and realizes that Macandal’s metamorphoses had a different motivation and purpose.

It is relevant, to quote here Mario Varga Llosa’s review of the novel where he observes that almost all the characters and events in Carpentier’s novel have a correspondence to historical reality. Ti Noel remains a faceless person, representative of all those who have suffered inhumanely and yet retain their power, renouncing the labels and masks that have become both their burden and defense mechanism. With their pathetic appearances, they constantly rebel against any repression.

This straightforwardness of his fight for freedom makes Ti Noel an exceptionally likeable personality and the Kingdom of this World a highly rewarding reading episode.

The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier, Harriet de Onís (Translation) Paperback, 186 pages Published September 1st 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1949)

Culture of Death in Yukio Mishima’s Novels

Portrait of a Japanese eccentric and poet and suicide victim, Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima, photographed by Kishin Shinoyama
Yukio Mishima, photographed by Kishin Shinoyama

In the morning of November 25, 1970, dressed in a theatrical fantasy uniform and accompanied by four cadets of his theatrical fantasy private army, he captured the Commander of Japanese Civil Defense. He ordered that the soldiers of the 32nd Regiment should sit in the yard of the barracks. He appeared – his friend Morita had unrolled a banner with pro-imperial slogans – at 12 noon on the balcony for a speech, of which in the graves of the soldiers only fragments of words like “Get up and die!”, “We have waited long enough!” were to be understood. He tried to get rid of the confusion with the triple “Tenno Heika banzai!” – “Long live the Emperor!” – to drown out. He fell silent like the crowd in the yard. He left the balcony, he stepped into the room, he said, “They did not even listen to me,” he sat down on the floor, unbuttoned his uniform jacket, took the Magoroku short sword, stabbed it in his left side, and slowly drew it Blade right across the body.

His favorite tone sequence is beauty-love-death

Yukio Mishima, Japan’s most famous poet of the modern age, 45 years old, had committed seppuku. After his lover Morita just cut his neck, one of his cadets struck his head, then the Moritas, with a single sword stroke. A life of excess had ended in the chosen excess. “You should have brought red roses for a party,” his mother said at the funeral, “for the first time in his life he has done what he urgently and always wanted to do, be happy for him.” At the beginning of 1970 he told his American friend Donald Keen that he had attended a high school student who did not let the acclaimed writer dismiss The Horse That Had Passed. “I said to him, ‘My time is very tight and I can only answer one question to you. The boy then paused for a while, then looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘When will you kill yourself?’ “And true to the lifelong passion for the ceremonious self-staging of the Oscar Wilde admirers Mishima had four months before his suicide invited the friendly editor of the largest television station to a select dinner and asked his irritation whether his death would come as a main evening news; He insisted on the journalist’s assurance, “If I were to do Seppuku, would you film and broadcast that live?”

Mishima, like his narcissistic osamu in Kyoko’s novel, blurred the line between death as coup de théâtre and death as reality; no: He had crossed it. That is just the fascinating, horrible and often also teasy-flavored of his work.

He is a fond, pale, eternally sick boy fighting a tuberculosis (as many of his fictional characters later on had until his final work, the critically executed The Sea of ​​Fertility , whose feeble Kiyoki is the likeness of his author). The boy sinks to the indignation of the father in the fantasy gloomy artificial dome whose pillared saints Rilke and Radiguet, Gide, Oscar Wilde and Thomas Mann. It was only late when the father was to say: “If you want to become a novelist, then give up the very first of Japan”; Mishima’s answer: “I will,” is narrated.

Father Azusa tore the books out of his hand, shredded them and threw them out of the window of the European-built house; a tear-spattered but traditionally silent mother had nothing but a caress and a cup of tea.But in dumb resistance, the literary addict was not chased out of his domes. At the high-ranking Gakushu-in school, founded in 1870 for children of the imperial family and the aristocracy, which Mishima had visited since 1931, he even ventured, in spite of his shyness, in his inadequate environment with rehearsals of his poems.

He himself chooses the pseudonym Mishima after the “three islands”, from which one can see the snowy Chubu, his Japanese teacher Shimizu advises to the first name Yukio, derived from Yuki = snow. After a first narrative Mishima debuts, he is 24 years old, with the strictly autobiographical novel confession of a mask – a sensational success.Earlier prose, often published in remote, albeit renowned magazines, had largely gone unnoticed; However, Mishima’s theme of life had already resonated in them, as if he knew Platens elegiac who looked at beauty … In fact, one of the most influential critics of the time, Zenmai Hasuda, had issued an aesthetic order with his phrase “dying means having culture”. At least Mishima’s admired Raymond Radiguet seemed to have followed that order; At the age of 20, after completing the novel, he died of typhus in 1923. But even in all of his early works – The Thievesor The Flowering Forest – Mishima, like a pianist who alludes to his leitmotiv, lets the beauty-love-death sequence of his life shine through him; sometimes Akihide stands in The Thieves by the Sea and realizes that his longing for Yoshiko “miraculously transforms into the yearning for death”, and sometimes it ends in the common death of the lovers.

And then in 1949 a confession of a mask appears. The narrow novel is his Werther , his coming-out (to remain in current parlance), his birth as a writer of utterly explosive rigidity, like dissecting coldness. He wanted to expose his aesthetic nihilism. What he revealed was his homosexuality.What began now was one of the most rife of self-actualization stories – and in Mishima’s case that means: self-destruct orgies of modern literature.

With poetic meticulousness Mishima designs in the book, which may be called because of his autobiographical authenticity barely novel, the magnetism, which emanates from male bodies, armpit hair, muscles, sweaty skin, speaks through the laboriously put on mask, with whose help he Love without desire forces: the love for a girl. The book is a black Mass, a ceremony of lust from pain and torment, a song in the tradition of Walt Whitman from beauty to death, yearning and addiction at the same time. What then became the basso continuo of his entire work; of his life, whose black noises and bloodthirsty fantasies he wrote down in novels, poems, no-plays, as it were, like a clef of clefs, everything is already laid out in the furious first act. He opens up the cadenzas of a hymnic flickering Gregorian.

Yukio Mishima was now a star. His books were bestsellers, were filmed, were reprinted as a continuation in high-circulation newspapers. He was rich. He led such an extroverted as extravagant life, appeared in the films of his books. In the early sixties – Mishima was earning the fabulous sum of $ 75,000 a year – after the literary defeat of his novel Kyoko’s House, which was outweighed by the enormous popularity of many other books – soon his name was on 140 book titles – Did he insist on playing a gangster, wiping the director’s concerns, “Do you think you have the face of a movie star?” with a “no question” brushing aside, pointing to his so proudly groomed chest hair. A week later the newspapers reported in bar headlines: “Mishima plays a hairy bandit, Mishima, pistol in hand, shows off his chest hair.” And as before, artist and fictional character mingled: Mishima dressed like a movie star, wearing sunglasses at night, was photographed in Marlon Brando pose and fed his interviewer with freshly received fan mail.

He sprinkles his figures with chest hair and powdered sugar

He scattered his money into the gay scene in Tokyo, stealing his companions on a trip to the US every afternoon to pick up 17-year-old boys from the San Francisco park, sharing nude photos of a heavily muscular man with extensively-fueled bodybuilding showed wild body hair; a man, as Mishima portrayed him over and over again as an ideal of masculine beauty. He had become his own aesthetic idol, creating himself – the portrait of Dorian Gray and Mr. Dorian Gray in one.

He drank the glory out of a hemlock mug. While his literary reputation sank in the sixties – even such a perfectly constructed novel as The Sailor, who betrayed the sea or preferred his favor After the banquet was devalued by the critics – he liked many fashionable poses; as the host of (at that time uncommon in Japan) European elegance in his luxurious home. As if he wanted to vary the Latin persona , which is also a mask, in his life and work refined, he tried to be the mask . Not only did he have the sophisticated attitude of receiving the editors-in-chief of Time or the New York Times like a minister of culture in Tokyo and hosting them in the most expensive establishments, but also a kind of literary balancing act – he saw himself as the preserver and innovator of Japanese tradition. and he incorporated infinite influences of European intellectual life into his texts. Magnus Hirschfeld and Marcel Proust, the Brothers Grimm and de la Motte Fouqué, Stefan Zweig and Andersen speak as casually as a natural mask of the Japanese reader.

We see a writer who, with iron discipline, invents a world at his desk every day for five hours – and who pays homage to the social world in the evening – or twelve at a reception at the British Embassy to the guest of honor, Lady Margot Fonteyn handed over huge white orchids. The artist Mishima has not always mastered the splits. He has been waiting for the world – he has obviously been watching exactly himself. His great biographer John Nathan, to whom many details of this essay are to be thanked, speaks of a wall of ice that isolated him from the environment. Faust Yukio was his own Mephisto Mishima. No one else offered him the diabolical pact; he shut it up to himself alone. As if someone was experimenting with drugs and observing himself exactly, he put each tear-eyelash under the microscope, photographed the preparation; and behold, it was art.

Not always. This introspection makes some of his texts sentimental, feeble, and decorative. The quivering male breast, of course always densely hairy; the tremendous passion of oceanic swells; the sensual shoulders and the beguiling sweetness of their closeness – in careless carelessness, Mishima does not shy away from a cloud of powdered sugar to daintily dust his figures. His erotic sensorium is fixed on the male body – ticking mostly on the hair – and on the psyche of the man.His loneliness, submergence, dark yearning or bamboo-bending mendacity spans his circle. And landscape. It is there, it does not want anything, it does not demand, is size or danger per se; a landscape can not be a partner. Mishima’s landscape paintings have the pastel beauty of Hokusai drawings: “As the darkness deepened, the song of the tree cicadas began to recur, the dusk reflected in the puddles here and there, and a moist breeze in the rice fields to the right and left in the fields with bent ears, the fruit, without the grain-like shimmer of noon, resembled an unmanageable mass of unconscious plant-bodies. ” On the other hand, trying to relate people to one another usually fails.

Reality interested the author, who said in 1955: “It is frightening how much the outer world has ceased to occupy me,” not at all. Therefore, the novel Liebesdurst, which has just been published, became a little masterpiece, an erotic thriller, a legend of greed and murder. It is not about passion, but about decay, an epic alternative to the existentialist idea that man is free in choice and decision. This Etsuko, widow and listless companion of her bony-fingered father-in-law, had as little choice in her fate as the water that always runs down-her lap could not save the young peasant lad in her imaginary glory.

On another occasion, Mishima varies his leitmotif of desire and extinction. It is the hymn over which he hoists his blood-banner, as devout as majestic. In December 1966, when he meets two young people who call themselves “neo-nationalists,” he meets his death messengers – a Cocteau film that has the disadvantage of being a reality.Until recently, perfectly styled silver servants of a perpetual party in the “Hotel Abgrund”, the writer now becomes the hater of this very society;the mask becomes a grimace. He takes a path that decades before him with its rigorous anti-liberalism European writers went – Johannes R. Becher or Gottfried Benn in Germany, Marinetti in Italy.

He was an imperial soldier without an army

It is said that Mishima became a “fascist”. I’m not sure that’s the right category for Mishima’s ecstatic return. Fascism, even National Socialism, had practical counter-offers. both lived essentially from the ideology of war and racism. Both rhythm was the march of the crowd – by no means the death duct of the heroic individual. They had concrete political leaders and precise socio-economic models of society. None of this with Yukio Mishima – he is a death-hungry dreamer beyond reality; he has no plans for a better one because reality does not interest him at all. His finally fanatical emperorship was an idolization of the empire. Mishima personally wanted nothing, he wanted to go under. The asceticism of his time between physical training and mental work was one of a soldier without army: “The day begins at six with morning appeal, cold water massage, a two-mile run, I scratch my plate clean with each meal, and I fall asleep Baby in my iron bed, wrapped in a military blanket … Strange as it may sound, about forty percent of my life is for a soldier’s life. ”

He was not without an army. According to his plan of life, mixing up delusion and real-time, taking the stage for the real and the theatrical act of acting, he created a “Black Army Faction,” a guards of young anti-democratic fanatics in operetta uniforms, who wore their bourgeois weariness in secret training camps , Yukio Mishima became an Oedipus performer, who did not wear black coal on the back of the stage and instead set his eyes out on the open stage.

As every writer of citation lives, even Mishima himself mortgaged his oath to death; In a famous 17th-century Samurai Yamamoto manifesto, “Know that the essence of bushido is dying, which means that a samurai always chooses to die before choosing between life and death, as simple as that. ”

But the poet had once again taken words for truth: Yamamoto did not commit suicide, he became a monk, dictated that manifesto entitled Hagakure and died peacefully at the age of 61. Mishima, on the other hand, who had written a detailed commentary on the Hagakure and stated that this book – “a key to freedom” – was the only one that always lay on his bedside table, wrote a “holy oath” with his followers in February 1968: ” We swear in the spirit of true men of Yamamato to stand with sword in hand against any threat to the culture and historical continuity of our homeland. ” In the gesture of pathetically heated boys, everyone signed with their blood.

A few months later, in a notorious “counterrevolutionary manifesto”, he finally draws the root of aesthetics and politics: “The fight is fought once, until death … We are the embodiment of Japanese beauty.” The apotheosis, to which he had written up many novels and to which he had now lived down, was the death of love. In his friend Morita he had found the lover for whom he had sought his whole life. By cutting off his head, Yukio Mishima had his last great satisfaction.

A selection of available books by Yukio Mishima:

  1. Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility #1) by Yukio Mishima, Michael Gallagher (Translator) Paperback, 389 pages Published 2000 by Vintage (first published 1968)
  2. Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima Paperback, 224 pages Published October 27th 1998 by Peter Owen (first published 1949)
  3. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima, John Nathan (Translator) Paperback, 181 pages Published May 31st 1994 by Vintage (first published 1963)
  4. Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima, Alfred H. Marks (Translator) Paperback, Vintage International, 403 pages Published February 22nd 1999 by Vintage Books (first published 1951)
  5. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, Ivan Morris (Translation) Hardcover, 304 pages Published 1995 by Everyman’s Library (first published 1956)

Ilaw Sa Hilaga (Lazaro Francisco, 1980)

Ilaw sa Hilaga by Lazaro Francisco, Published 1980 by The University of the Philippines Press (first published 1931)

The novel, Ilaw sa Hilaga (Northern Lights) was originally published  as “Bayang Nagpatiwakal” in 1931. It depicts the 1920s, during the American colonial period in the Philippines. By this time, the war for independence which started in 1896 had already subsided and the colony had entered into a delicate period of peace time. There is hardly any reference to the conflict aside from the mention of a revered “Heneral” who is said to have fought  in two wars, one against Spain and the other against America, and who stands as the foster father of the main protagonist.

This period also saw the struggle for independence move from the battlefields to parliament with the introduction of the Tydings-Mcduffie Act in the American Congress which would grant autonomy to the Philippines under a Commonwealth and subsequent independence. While the law guarantees self-governance, it also grants preferential rights to the Americans to continue to hold and conduct businesses within Philippine territory.

The novel’s premise is set in a rivalry in the transport business in the town of San Carlos (a fictionalized version of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, described as a “Bangan ng Sangkapuluan/ Granary of the Islands”) , between a bus company set up by American Father and Son named Hansen and one set up by a Filipino colonial subject named Javier Santos (later Rei Vajt Ossan in disguise). The American is supported by the local aristocracy and this among many other things leads the Filipino’s enterprise to bankruptcy. He resolves to burn all his possession before mysteriously disappearing from the town only to return in the fashion of Jose Rizal’s “Simoun” in “El Filibusterismo” as Rei Vajt Ossan. He plots revenge against all foreign business, even against Chinese businessmen and plans to heighten the oppression against his countrymen as a devil’s advocate to catalyze their uprising. Javier succeeds in raising the consciousness and nationalist sentiments of the townsfolk but is haunted by his own transformation.

San Carlos as Place and Capital

The fictional town of San Carlos is said to be situated near Manila and can be reached back and forth within the day (magagawang lakbayin papunta-pabalik sa loob ng isang araw). As a provincial capital (pangulong bayan), it is physically, economically, and ideologically, related to Manila, the nation’s capital.  Most head offices of banks and government offices are located in Manila, and the daily busses that link both places represents and creates the meaning of being a “pangulong bayan/ capital”. San Carlos is a place apart from but at the same time inseperable in its existence to Manila. It receives and follows the economic and political practices of the center. The entrance of foreign business which is at the heart of the novel’s plot is a result of the signing into law of the Tydings-Mcduffie Act, one of the many terms that connect to America’s new colonial policy of “benevolent assimilation”, best encapsulated in Mark Twain’s satirical poem “White Man’s burden”. The novel illustrates the hierarchy of the imperial order in placing the characters within significant locations in the town: The heir to the old man Hansen’s fortune lurks in the richest aristocrat’s house. The hierarchy signifies that the Colonial is the highest in the order and the aristocrat sits between them and the workers and farmers. Lazaro seems a shy away from fully describing Marxian class theory.

As a “pangulong bayan/ capital” and because of American influence, the cultural archetypes within the town of San Carlos are also transformed. The town became a place for negotiation in both language and culture of the native Filipino. In one of Javier’s conversation with the younger Hansen, he describes the nature of two kinds of civilization in San Carlos. One was inherited from their ancestors and the other delivered to them by foreigners. He explains that the colonial lives with two identities and shifts between them in order to show that they have learned to become civilized:

Nagkaroon kami, Ginoong Hanzen, ng dalawang uri ng kabihasnan: ang kabihasnang pamana ng aming ninuno, at ang kabihasnang inihatid dito ng mga dayuhan! Salit na ginagamit namin ang bihisang sarili at ang bihisang dayuhan upang ipakilala lamang na natuto kaming mabuhay sa dalawang uri ng kabaihasnang iyan.

Javier’s use of a foreign language (he argues with Hansen in English) proves that in the colonial order, it is the native who needs to learn the foreigner’s language not only to understand them in conversation but in order to address anyone who uses that language, even fellow Filipinos who speak other languages and who shun the use of national language for being largely based on Tagalog during that time.

“…dito’y kailangang manghiram ng wikang dayuhan upang magkasundo ang lahat sa isang wikang pambansa at pampamahalaan! Makalilibong masarap sa amin ang mapailalim kaming lahat sa wikang banyaga kaysa masabing sinahis ng Tagalog ang Ilokano, ang Bisaya, ang Bikol, ang Kapampangan, at iba pa, o iyon kaya ng alin man sa mga ito!”

San Carlos becomes a hatchery of cultural kitsch, of imitation and appropriation. The main protagonist speaks of this cross as a fusion between Rizal’s Simoun and the betrayal of his own identity as a colonial by adopting the eccentric name “Ossan”. His foster father who was a General in the revolution takes the place of Rizal’s Pilosopong Tasyo, an elderly Illustrado deemed by everyone in the colony as a madman. The local aristocrats also approximate the fashion and behavior of the Americans. The mimicry often falls flat or results in farcical exaggeration– and this is where Lazaro pegs the changing Filipino identity.

Filipino Identity as an American colonial subject

Rei Vajt Ossan, Javier Santos’s nom de guerre, describes the new Filipino Identity that is dictated by the conditions of American colonial’s idea of place and time. Javier Santos’s identity belongs to the Spanish colonial past and his native culture, and it is this “nativeness” that seeks to restore the “ginhawa” (roughly, abundance and freedom from want) that was the nature of life before the Spanish colonization. This idea looms large in during the revolution and persisted even after the Americans hijacked Philippine independence.

The ‘native’ resurges and merges with the ‘Castilian’ identity in adapting their conservative morality and ethics to combat imperialist American assimilation. Inspite of this, Javier Santos’s traditionalism fails and he needed to reinvent himself in a previously unauthored identity, with a name that was created as a puzzle of his real name–’Rei Vaj’ is the reverse of ‘Javier’ and ‘Santos’ of ‘T Ossan’. The enigmatic and deceitful character of the colonizer is co-opted by the colonized native to face off with the foreigner Hansen. But the foreign sounding new name also speaks of the alienation of the character from his true self. In Japanese “Ossan” means an old person.

The act of adaptation and co-optation to defeat the foreigner results in a clumsy excess. Even if in the eyes of the people, Javier only sought equal footing by inducing foreign capital into his business, this resulted in the inevitable creation of a another self, one that has more similarities to his competitor than himself. This became apparent near the end of the story when Javier/Ossan becomes successful in merging the capital of both rich and poor in his desire to end the economic domination of foreign competitors.

About the novelist

Lazaro Francisco is an eminent Filipino novelist. Born on 22 February 1898 in Orani, Bataan to Eulogio Francisco and Clara Angeles before they moved to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. He studied at the Central Luzon Agricultural School and attended courses in English and bookkeeping. He worked as a clerk in provincial treasurer’s office. After passing the Civil Service Examination he became a provincial assessor until 1963. In 1958 he organized  the Kapatiran ng Alagad ng Wikang Pilipino (KAWIKA), an organization that advocated fro the advancement of the national language. . In 1970, he was honored with a Republic Cultural Heritage Award and elevated to the Order of National Artists in 2009.

Francisco’s literary output consists of 12 novels, seven short stories, and an essay written in the popular magazine, Liwayway. His first novella, Binhi at Bunga (Seed and Fruit, 1925) earned him critical acclaim. This was followed by three novels Cesar (1926), and the short story, Deo (1926). His novels, Ama (Father, 1927), Sa Sa Paanan ng Krus (At the foot of the cross, 1933) for which he garnered a Gold Medal from the group Ilaw at Panitik (Light and Letters), Pamana ng Pulubi (Inheritance of the Pauper, 1936), Bago Lumubog ang Araw (Before the Sun sets, 1938), and Singsing na Pangkasal (Wedding Ring, 1940) which was honored by  the Commonwealth Literary Awards in 1940, have been translated to different languages and adapted as plays and scripts for movies. Lazaro is best known today for his novels, Ilaw sa Hilaga (originally published as Bayang Nagpapatiwakal), Sugat ng Alaala, Maganda Pa ang Daigdig, at Daluyong which have been republished by the Ateneo De Manila University Press and the University of the Philipppines Press.

According to the critic Bienvinido Lumbera  Lazaro Francisco, “occupies an eminent position in the history of the Filipino novel”. After the war, he revised his Bayang Nagpatiwakal (1932) and released the book as Ilaw sa Hilaga (1948) as a reaction to the American economic dominance in the aftermath of the war. A string of novels: Sugat ng Alaala (1950) according to writer Francis Macasantos “reflects the horrors of the war experience as well as the human capacity for nobility, endurance and love under the most extreme circumstances.” Written almost four years apart from each other, his novels Maganda Pa Ang Daigdig (1956) deals with the agrarian issue, and Daluyong (1962) deals with the corruption bred by the American-style and American-educated pseudo-reformers. Soledad Reyes notes that Lazaro Francisco tackled issues in his novels which would only be fully assessed by social scientists a decade after during the outbreak of the First Quarter Storm and the subsequent declaration of Martial Law. Some of the issues discussed are the peasant movement and the imperialist neo-colonial policy of the United States towards the Philippines. “In the case of the Tagalog Novels of Francisco, he has often preceded history books.” His works, according to the writer Francisco Macasantos are realist novels infused “with social and moral ideals”.

Ilaw sa Hilaga by Lazaro Francisco, Published 1980 by The University of the Philippines Press (first published 1931)

Notes and Acknowledgements

  1. The main article above was translated to English from a review by John Barrios at November 2011.
  2. Francisco, Lazaro. In V. Almario (Ed.), Sagisag Kultura (Vol 1). Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Retrieved from March 2015
  3. Macasantos, Francisco. Philippine Literature in the post war and contemporary period. NCCA Website. April 2018.
  4. Reyes, Soledad. 2018 Adrian Cristobal Lecture Series on the Filipino Novel. Ateneo De Manila. March 2018


Piercing (Ryu Murakami, 2009)

Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)
Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)

A novel about the interactions of sex that is powerfully repulsive and captivating at the same time

In Japan and the English-speaking world, Ryu Murakami first became known with his novel “Coin Locker Babies” (1980). In it he describes the life of two boys who were exposed in locker rooms in infancy and grew up to very different, albeit equally disturbed personalities. In 2006, the novel “In the Miso Soup” was published in English.

Murakami is not only a star in Japan as a novelist. He has also made a name for himself as a scriptwriter and director.  His film “Audition” from 1999 (directed by Takashi Miike) was very successful in Europe. In the movie, the gossip of potential actresses leads to a sadomasochistic torture scene.

Again and again, Murakami is asking the same questions. How does life work in a technocratic society, where there is hardly any room for personal freedom? What interactions exist between sex and power? What impact do deepest injuries have on human behavior? The film “Audition” was sometimes perceived by the audience as unbearably ice-cold, a story that dissects brutal torture scenes. Mechanisms are revealed that most people do not want to know more than necessary. Yet many are fascinated and repelled by their own fascination at the same time.

Similarly, the novel “Piercing”, which appeared in Japan in 1994, also did well with audiences. Again, the story is a game of sexuality and power that employs the author. Kawashima is a young graphic designer, married and a father of a daughter. At first glance, everything is fine. Kawashima loves his wife and child and is successful in his job. And yet something is wrong. Every night he stands with an ice pick on his daughter’s cot, places her sharp point on the soft skin and struggles with the urge to stab.

Where this obsession comes from becomes gradually clearer. Kawashima is deeply traumatized by his unfortunate childhood. Unwanted by the mother, beaten and finally given away, he suffers from his deep injuries. Again and again, the mother appears before his inner eye, she also attributes her split into two people. Because especially in moments of great tension, he has the feeling of being watched from above, hears voices and shares in a pain-feeling and a detached person.

Once again, Kawashima has given in to his predicament. His first relationship was with an elderly woman who worked as a prostitute. He stabbed her in the stomach. To get rid of the urge to kill his child, he forges a literal-battle plan. A prostitute should become his victim. With her, he hopes to kill the image of his mother and his own lust for murder. He plans his approach in detail: in a notebook he notes every single step: “Simple jeans and a sweater to change. Something as space-saving as possible. A sweater made of thin material. The same applies to the jeans. Two pairs of well-fitting leather gloves. Great mindfulness when using the gloves. ”

As disturbing as the theme, the desire to torture and kill, is the language in which this theme is presented. Completely emotionless, strategic and goal-oriented, the protagonist’s actions are like the narrator’s language, reminiscent of authors such as Bret Easton Ellis and Michel Houllebecq. Less convincing, however, is the psychological component of the novel. Again and again, the voices in the head of the protagonist speak out, again and again and all too clearly and one-dimensionally, the narrative makes it clear who blames these voices: the unloving mother.

To complete his plan, Kawashima takes a vacation, hires a hotel in the Tokyo City, and orders a prostitute. By the way, one learns irritating details, such as that in Japanese business hotels “erotic catalogs” with a wide range of women are out and that such a “holiday” is socially acceptable – Kawashima’s boss says goodbye to him with the recommendation not to catch HIV during his recovery time ,

Kawashima’s plan does not work out as he had imagined. Even Chiaki, the woman he has ordered, is suffering from her injuries. She was also abused as a child. The forerunners of the two injured are the result of a complicated network of misinterpretations and misinterpretations. Murakami blends her conversations and outward actions with her thoughts and voices in her mind. In addition to the extremely bloody plot-a bitten-out finger is still one of the more harmless details-Murakami tries to deal with the mental deformity of his protagonists.

Although “piercing” triggers disgust, but at the same time fascinating enough to be read in one go. Nevertheless, it remains a bad feeling. If social structures are to be criticized here, one crucial detail is missing: the view of the whole. Because shocking is not the fact that individual people are so hurt that they pass on their pain. Shockingly, the facts that only marginally interest Murakami-that “girls” are cataloged are that a receptionist responds to screams of pain from the hotel room with a request for “respect” for the neighbors.

Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)

No more love (Javier Marias, 2016)

“The older I get, the less certainty I have,” said Spanish writer Javier Marías in a recent interview. Almost exactly twenty years ago, after the publication of the translation of his novel My Heart So White, he had been discovered by more English-speaking countries. More than six million copies of his novels, stories and essays translated into 34 languages ​​have been sold across the world. Javier Marías, who celebrated his 65th birthday on 20 September, is anything but an easily consumable mainstream author. His often interlaced and cross-referenced novels are attributed in Spain to the Pensamiento literario – a kind of philosophical narration.

Now, for the first time, there is a representative selection of 30 stories from almost 50 years in a large anthology. The earliest story ( life and death of Marcelino Iturriaga ) dates from 1968 and is (despite the author’s youth) very sophisticated. The protagonist Marcelino Iturriaga reports almost emotionlessly about his own death and his unexciting life of only 35 years. Love, passion, disappointment, betrayal and death (often violent) are the fundamental building blocks in these texts.

Marías cultivates the surreal and artistic border crossings in his stories. Banal everyday events are mixed with fantastic inserts.Sometimes a little Edgar Allan Poe shimmers through between the lines. The band contains no less than three spooky ghost stories, as does the title story No Love , in which a young woman appears as a reader. When reading aloud, she suddenly encounters a ghost in the form of a peasant boy: “The young man immediately raised his index finger to his lips and indicated to her with reassuring hand gestures that she should continue and not betray his presence.”

No less scary is in some stories in which Marías plays with bonds from the world of crime thrillers. Often he sends his characters to the other world in a bizarre way – so in Lanzenblut , one of the most extensive lyrics of the volume. Right at the beginning we encounter two corpses pierced by lances in a bestial way. Javier Marías’ imagination knows no bounds. The author also goes into the emotional shoals of his characters. The result is situations that are as bizarre as they are oppressive – for example, when Elvis Presley’s Spanish teacher reaches for a pickaxe in self-defense or when a psychopathic man permanently films his young and highly attractive wife, because he wants to document part of their last day of life.

“In one of my novels I wrote: The moment comes when it is difficult to separate what you have read from what you have experienced.Both are experiences “, according to Marías’ artistic credo. And the readers are now enriched by the important experience that the important, often very extravagant and lengthy novelist Javier Marías masterfully masters the fast-paced literary short prose and knows how to tell exciting stories.

Javier Marías : No more love. Stories. Translated from Spanish

The Enchantress of Florence (Salman Rushdie, 2008)

The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushied, Cape ___ Php, 349 pages, Available in Fully Booked-BGC
The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushied, Cape ___ Php, 349 pages, Available in Manila Bookstores

The female figure in the cover of Salman Rushdie’s eighth novel, the “Enchantress of Florence”  hints on the action that will unfold in the text. But before any of the action occurs, Rushdie loses himself in meandering narrative streams and meticulous details.

The story begins at the end of the fifteenth century where we meet a young blond Italian who succeeds in reaching the legendary Mughal kingdom of Emperor Akbar and his golden city Fatehpur Sikri after after some adventures at sea. The blonde stranger quickly catapults herself into the inner circle of the Emperor and enjoys his favor in exchange for stories about the legendary city of Florence. The contrasting cities stand for two different relationships to reality. In the emperor’s oriental city, the boundaries between reality and desire are fluid and there is no absolute guarantor of reality. Rushdie illustrates this in great detail through a sequence in which Akbar’s mother and his sister visit Akbar’s imaginary other wife, Jodha. They are plunged into a paradoxi wherein they begin to feel their existence more in the vast emptiness.

Rushdie, however, does not succumb to the stereotype of rationality and mysticism between the Occident and the Orient. The reports of the stranger from Florence tells of a city torn by civil war, a city that had just been released from the clutches of the Church and the Medicis. The novel moves us to ponder on the nature of authoritarianism through the discussion of Italy under Niccolo Machiavelli during a short-lived period when it became a republic. It is precisely this Florence that is a place of religious fanaticism and church-led irrationality, that is being painted as opposed to the city of Akbar, the doubter, whose own authority as well as firmness in faith seem to quiver.

Fascinated by the story of a young woman who speaks of legends and her companion, and tales of their adventurous journey to the West, how they finally found royal hospitality, and the attractions of Florence, the legendary ruler lets his imaginations run wild while fantasizing about the enchantress in his palace ,

What Salman Rushdie wants to tell us, though, remains unanswered. He certainly presents a good story of an encounter between agnostics both in the East and in the West; he also touches on the male fascination for femininity as well as of female strength and how they are objectified but in the end, there is remains something perplexing about this splendid and sprawling story that seems to have a peculiar way of getting lost in its own narrative streams.

The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushied, Cape ___ Php, 349 pages, Available in Manila Bookstores