The Philippines are an Asian anomaly: a primarily Catholic nation bred on European and American culture, the country has long been subjugated by foreign powers and homegrown dictators alike, leaving the people to quietly endure. But as F. Sionil José proves, they have never been silenced. One of the premier novelists in the Philippines (he won the Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel, in 1980), José's acclaimed Rosales saga chronicles the Filipino struggles and triumphs during the 20th century. Dusk
, the fifth book in the saga but the first released in the United States, showcases a writer who deserves a much wider audience.
This rich historical novel takes place at the end of the 19th century as the Filipinos, with the aid of the Americans, finally expelled the Spanish after three centuries of often brutal rule. Major themes are on display here--war and peace; rich versus poor; tyranny versus freedom--all passionately presented within the context of one man and his family. After being unjustly dismissed from the seminary by a corrupt priest and then suffering the death of his brother at the hands of Spanish authorities, Istak Samson is forced to flee from increasing oppression and lead his family on a journey for a new home. This harsh quest from the coast to the central plains eventually leads Samson to find love, peace, and relative prosperity, as well as provide a device for José to vividly describe the beauty and complexity of his homeland and to elaborate on the cultural effects of Spanish occupation. The joy Samson finds, like Philippine independence, is short-lived, as the Filipinos soon engage in a bloody conflict with the Americans, who have substituted Spanish imperialism with their own. Unable to reconcile his pacifist nature with his sense of duty to his country, Samson reluctantly joins the rebel forces in their battle to reassert their freedom. After setting the stage for tragedy, José does not follow an easy route to a happy ending but instead builds to a climax that is moving, if not unexpected. In telling his epic tale from the perspective of a common peasant, José lends a powerful voice to a people long trapped in the midst of historical upheaval.
From Publishers Weekly
Tapping a mostly unknown chapter in American history, Jose, one of the Philippines' most prominent authors, has created a vivid chronicle of Filipino life on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Set in the deep Filipino countryside in an area penetrated only by the Catholic church, the novel charts the fortunes of Istak, a member of the Ilokono tribe who trained as an acolyte under a kind priest. Able to speak Spanish and Latin and more comfortable writing than farming, Istak finds himself distanced from his family's simple village life. Driven off their land, Istak's family is beset on all sides, traveling across unknown territory and under attack by other tribes and Spanish soldiers. Istak's emerging political awareness coincides with the invasion of the Philippines by American forces, and he finds that his educated status obliges him to play a role in this conflict as well. Jose recalls Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his concern for the effects of national politics on peasant life, though this book doesn't match Marquez for character sophistication or verbal acrobatics. Readers unfamiliar with the history of the region may wish for more background on the prevailing political conditions?which are probably well known to the book's original audience. Jose also never provides much insight into the "enemy"?either the church or the invading Americans. Still, this novel is a solid introduction to one of Southeast Asia's most respected voices. (May) FYI: Jose is editor and publisher of the literary journal Solidarity, as well as founding president of the Philippines PEN center. Dusk is part of his five-part Rosales saga. A previous novel, Sins, was also published in America by Random House.
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