PGTW: Blood Republic

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 5 September 2013, Thursday

Blood Republic

The cover is red as blood, the title catchy as a suspense movie’s.

Philippines Graphic magazine’s editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud’s latest book, Blood Republic, is a collection of non-fiction essays, “random recollections of writings about persons and events, thoughts and ideas,” says the author, that he feels “have played an intriguing role in my view of the world as a writer.”

He quotes University of the Philippines Professor Emeritus Gemino Abad as saying, “As writers, we are only as strong as our memory.” Though Salud says Blood Republic “can hardly be called a memoir,” it serves the purpose of an aide memoire of events in the life of a man and in the timeline of society.

There are fascinating essays about Frank Sionil Jose “(Huks, Lines, and Frankie”), Nick Joaquin (“Onching’s Manila”), for these two alone the book is worth the price of admission. There are pieces on topics as diverse as Martial Law, Jesus, Filipino Muslims, despots now and then, poetry, and monsoons, the latter piece adorned with a digression into the influence of Playboy magazine on a young boy’s psyche; now ‘fess up, haven’t we all been there?

Salud’s writing is powerful and authoritative without being condescending nor pushy. It lays details one after the other in uncompromising fashion followed by insightful analysis that presents his point of view on the topic while allowing the reader latitude to explore her or his own.

The interesting stuff is personal. “Saddam under my roof,” about his father Oscar, presents a remarkable man who quoted Kierkegaard and Locke, worked in San Francisco and Alaska, put up a workers union and ran afoul of the mob, and shot a traitor.

“He was too busy being himself,” Salud says of his father, who, however, was not too busy to tell his son: “Anak, fight for the freedom of your pen, look after the poor, and never fear to enter hell, even with just a spoonful of water.”

Salud is honest to the point of pain: in self-deprecation he points to himself as being “a…snooty boy overburdened by dreams,” a “garden-variety recluse” writing “poor excuses for poetry to break the monotony” of his younger years.

The raw sincerity in his essays touches that same chord within us that reminds us of our own youth, perhaps misspent but certainly a learning experience, and the travails and triumphs along the path that led to our current condition.

Whether we have become wiser or not for the journey is, for Salud, immaterial to having lived the life. In Blood Republic, he says, the reader will find “lives, loves, losses, and laurels” from the perspective of one who’s been there, done all that.  For all the worldly insight, there is no sense of jadedness here, no cynicism, only a wide-eyed wonder at what has been and is still to come.

The book is initially available at the Philippines Graphic office on Pasong Tamo Avenue, Makati City. Visit their website at http://www.philippinegraphic.ph.

* * * * *

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the 63rd Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature!

Along with members of the Philippine writing community, they were feted on September 1 at the Peninsula Hotel by the organizers, the Carlos Palanca Foundation. The guest of honor was novelist-poet-essayist-literature professor Cirilo Bautista, a Palanca Award Hall of Famer and recipient of many other awards.

Check out the full list of winners at http://www.palancaawards.com.ph.

Here’s something interesting I heard about the winner of the Grand Prize for Novel – Jose Elvin Bueno for his Subversivo, Inc. His speculative fiction book is set in the future (or perhaps an alternate reality) and it won the judges’ acclaim because it is fresh, funny, and entirely unpredictable. The action carries the reader from one breathless moment to the next, and the ending is something unexpected.

Bueno, who is based in New York City, flew back just to attend this event.

His book is something to look forward to – a new story and a new perspective from a new voice in Philippine literature.

Again, congratulations to all the winners! ***

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