Thursday, May 29, 2014

Armchair BEA 2014: Beyond the Borders

Welcome to Armchair BEA 2014!

Beyond the Borders

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going! SOURCE: Armchair BEA Headquarters


Alright, I am going to talk about Philippine Literature. Not because I don't know my own culture nor I am ignorant of my own country. I am a little bit embarrassed to say that the Philippine Literature is something outside of my comfort zone. Funnily enough, I actually started my book review background to a Filipino lit back in high school. When I was in my junior year, we watched a contemporary Filipino play and was required to write a comprehensive review about it in English. After submitting my project, I found out a couple of days later that my English teacher had read my review to other classes. Apparently, she was really impressed with my submission. After that, my teacher had encouraged me to read various literature and most of them were written by Filipino writers.

One of my favorite Filipino books (in English) is The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin. He is one of our National Artists.

The Woman Who Had Two Navels

This novel by Joaquin is a literary assessment of the influence of the past to the time encompassing events in the Philippines after World War II, an examination of an assortment of legacy and heritage and the questions of how can an individual exercise free will and how to deal with the “shock” after experiencing “epiphanic recognition”. SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

I would recommend this to people who have high interest in history and literature that includes oppression and tragedy.

Another kind of genre that I enjoy reading are "gay books". Now, don't take my term as derogatory because gays are widely accepted in the Philippines and it is quite normal for Filipinos to refer homosexuals as gays without malice. Here in the Philippines, gay people can use the woman's comfort room without judgment and even the Catholic priests (though not all) acknowledged them. I don't know a single person here who does not have a gay friend. And apparently, I have too many gay friends to function, according to the said friends. Hmp! *huffs breath*

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

It's 1991. A gay Filipino American returns from his home in Hawaii to his native Manila, where he is jousted by absurd encounters, thwarted desires, cultural and political upheavals and painful memories.

Vince, introduced in Linmark's Rolling the R's (1997), hasn't been in the Philippines since 1978, when he and his siblings left for Honolulu—six years after their parents flew off to escape the Marcos regime. Sensory overload greets him. The heat is stifling, he's accosted by strangers attractive and not, a mysterious sleeping sickness is claiming men and a volcano is about to erupt. Having arrived with members of the Filipino balikbayan culture, who cart unwieldy boxes stuffed with food cans, shampoo bottles and designer jeans, he acclimates to a different social setting when his good looks draw the attention of showbiz types. A film and pop-culture obsessive, he becomes part of a world including President Corazon Aquino's movie-star daughter, known as the "Massacre Queen of Philippine Cinema." The title of the book, which translates not as milk, as in Spanish, but as a four-letter word, is as cheeky a novel as you'll encounter. Broken up by postcard correspondence, dream sequences, glossary entries and "Tourist Tips" ("Staring is a favorite Filipino pastime. Don't take it personally"), it's nothing if not breezy. Linmark isn't funny or cutting enough as a prose stylist, though, or innovative enough as a postmodernist to achieve the tour de force he's after. As lacerating as he tries to be, his satire is rarely more than mild, and his attempts at magic realism fall short. But the book's nonstop energy and nonstop attitude are addictive. And in Vince you won't find a less predictable tour guide.

A lively satiric return to early '90s Manila, seen from both sides of the Filipino American divide. SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews

Now on to dark humor! My best recommendation would be Filipino Bitch Queen Jessica Zafra. She is well-known for her dark satire works that make a hell lot of sense in the real world. I'd like to think of her books as hate books for haters. This is one of her lighter works:

500 People You Meet in Hell

This is a fairly nasty book, and it should be kept away from the irony-challenged and anyone who takes things too literally. Read an expert here.

These are a few examples of books outside my comfort zone by Filipino writers that I enjoyed reading. Since all of them are in English, I would recommend this to you if you like either Classics, LGBT, or Humor. In my strong belief, Philippine Literature needs more international attention.


  1. This is wonderful. I've not read these. I will look for them. Thanks for sharing. I love to find new books to read.

    1. You're welcome, Elizabeth! It would be wise getting them online as I do not think your local book store have them in stock. Happy reading!

  2. Excellent post! I think I need to read the 500 people you meet in hell...have a sinking feeling I'm mentioned (LOL)!

    1. Oh Amy! I hope that is not the case. Lol. Then again, we have that evil alter ego hiding in some dark corner of our minds.