Friday, April 18, 2008

A cocktail chat with F. Sionil Jose

I just came from the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in the Philippines. My mom and sister were also there being Fulbrighters like myself.

The creme of the creme of Pinoy academia, arts, sciences and intellectuals were there.Ex National librarian Dr Serafin Quiason was as bubbly as ever on a zillion topics most of them dealing with Queen Gloriana. Ateneo VP Tonnette Palma Angeles were there too. National artists Napoleon Abueva (sculpture) and F. Sionil Jose were moving through the cocktail crowd. My mom knew both men since she was a librarian. Abueva was dean of Fine Arts at UP and that college was then on the 3rd floor of the Main Library building. Abueva designed the Fulbright award trophies. Sionil Jose was and is still at 85 promoting reading.

My mom introduced me to Sionil Jose by simply stating the truth. "My son has read all of your books! In fact he has all copies of your books."

Sionil Jose repliedand smiled "My condolences. Which of my books do you think is best?"

ooooops! This calls for a decent answer. "The Pretenders!" (Yikes this is part of the English Lit Canon at UP! It was my book review in English 3 class.)

"My condolences again" Sionil-Jose replies. "I wrote that novel in my twenties"

"Well Sir, I started reading your books when I was in high school. And I started with "The Pretenders" and ended up with "Sherds".

Anyway I think Sionil Jose was quite surprised that someone seriously read all his books. I think he believed my mom. After all can a librarian be wrong on this point?

I do have all of Sionil-Jose's books in my library from "The Pretenders" (1962) to the latest "Sherds" (2007) Some of the book pages are now falling out of the bindings. For his essays I liked his "We Filipinos,Our Moral Malaise, Our Heroic Heritage".The pages have really fallen out.

Sionil-Jose's books are a sharp lens on our Pinoy society. The search for social justice seems hopeless.

Those who read realize that he/she is imprisoned. The truth is he/she can only be set free by reading.

Those who don't read don't know their imprisoned thus have no way of being free.

That is why Sionil-Jose gave me his condolences.

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