Monday, November 23, 2015

One More Chance by Juan Miguel Sevilla

In which I try not to read in two different mindsets.


I am more accustomed to reading books that have been used as bases for movies. I remember worrying whether the existence of a film version is not good enough reason to read a book. But, looking at it now, the film could be a marketing strategy for the book, since books are always in stores, unlike movies, which don’t always stay in cinemas.

I recently had an experience that is the opposite of a novel-turned-movie phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, I know that making novel versions of films isn’t a new concept. However, reading a book after watching the original film isn’t really something exciting for me. 

But one email is bound to change everything.

I was invited by Arlyn Rosales from ABS CBN Publishing to be part of a book discussion for the novel version of One More Chance, the hit 2007 romance starring Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz. I immediately said “yes.”

However, due to conflict in the schedule, the book discussion was cancelled. Instead, I received a package containing these beautiful things. 


And with that, my initiation to reading novel versions of films began.

One More Chance (the novel) was written by Juan Miguel Sevilla, who was known for his screenplays for Star Cinema hits such as Miss You Like Crazy, My Amnesia Girl, and Unofficially Yours.

The novel opens with a prologue dedicated to memory, which honestly reminds me of Michelle Richmond’s The Year of Fog. Sevilla patiently describes Popoy’s recollection of how inconsistent memory could be, and how memorable falling in love for the first time is.

With his strong wordplay, Sevilla crafts expressions that both reflect the film while giving the novel a distinct personality -- expressions that will surely tug at the heartstrings of hopeless romantics. 

The plot unfolds like the movie itself, with some expected changes. And these are good changes that allowed the novel to offer a new, fresh perspective on the narrative.

But just like any novel and film that existed to complement each other, one inevitably stands out. And this time, it’s the movie. 

Sevilla wrote for the fans of the film, not for readers who haven’t watched it yet but still wanted to read a romantic novel. While the movie is vivid in all dimensions (let’s not even get started on how good Bea and john Lloyd portrayed their characters, the hugot lines that never got old, and the soundtrack, my goodness!), the novel seemed to be too caught up in the excitement to tell its own story. The film showed the viewers the metamorphosis of Popoy and Basha from lovers to strangers and back, making the viewers part of the journey. The novel reports that metamorphosis from the point of view of an editorial omniscient narrator.

Reading the novel is a very emotional roller coaster ride, and it’s not entirely because of prior knowledge. It always feels good to be allowed inside the character’s head and see his or her internal struggles. But sometimes, ignorance is truly bliss. Being given too much removes the challenge of understanding the characters and the complex human experience that they embody.

Several pages before the novel ends, and probably just when I thought I know exactly how the writer will choose to end the story, a surprise awaits. And it’s an emotional roller coaster ride once again.


Speaking of emotional hopeless romantic stuff, do not miss A Second Chance, the sequel to One More Chance on November 25 in cinemas.

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One More Chance (the novel)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Analysis of "How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife" By Manuel E. Arguilla

In which the journey and the destination count.


When I first read "How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife," I was in fourth grade. And just like any fourth grader, it didn't mean anything to me. Or perhaps it did, albeit in a very shallow, childish way. I remember thinking that Maria is a clever and sweet girl when she called Leon Noel. See, it's Leon spelled backwards! Oh, the simple satisfaction of a child's discovery.

Reading it again several years after, proved to be more than an eye-opener. The short story is not just a recollection of an afternoon adventure with a brother's fiancé. It's a plan made with good intentions, but was executed with apparent cruelty.

The short story opened with a simple but direct (and quite pictorial) description of Maria.
She stepped down from the carretela of Ca Celin with a quick, delicate grace. She was lovely. She was tall. She looked up to my brother with a smile, and her forehead was on a level with his mouth. 
… Her nails were long, but they were not painted. She was fragrant like a morning when papayas are in bloom. And a small dimple appeared momently high on her right cheek.
From here, all the other descriptions sprang from Maria. Baldo, Leon's younger brother, see things only as Maria's periphery. The narrative flow becomes based on whatever Maria looks at, touches, or whoever comes near Maria. She seems to be a beautiful light source, and any object only becomes relevant when touched by her radiance.

Baldo was the one tasked to bring Leon and Maria to their house. But instead of following camino real (which I believe was the main road), Baldo guided Labang (the carabao) the other way -- back to where Ca Celin dropped them off and into the fields.

This is where things get mysterious … and awkward.
When I sent Labang down the deep cut that would take us to the dry bed of the Waig which could be used as a path to our place during the dry season, my brother Leon laid a hand on my shoulder and said sternly: 
"Who told you to drive through the fields tonight?" 
His hand was heavy on my shoulder, but I did not look at him or utter a word until we were on the rocky bottom of the Waig. 
"Baldo, you fool, answer me before I lay the rope of Labang on you. Why do you follow the Waig instead of the camino real?" 
His fingers bit into my shoulder. 
"Father, he told me to follow the Waig tonight, Manong." 
Swiftly, his hand fell away from my shoulder and he reached for the rope of Labang. Then my brother Leon laughed, and he sat back, and laughing still, he said: 
"And I suppose Father also told you to hitch Labang to the cart and meet us with him instead of with Castano and the calesa."
What's admirable in Leon's personality is his calmness. He might have already sensed that something is awry, yet, just like most Filipinos, he chose to dwell on positive things.
Without waiting for me to answer, he turned to her and said, "Maria, why do you think Father should do that, now?" He laughed and added, "Have you ever seen so many stars before?"
And so they looked at the stars, and sang. They still sang even after the cart's wheels hit a big rock. And Baldo noticed that Leon and Maria's world is no doubt full of happiness.

After realizing that they are getting nearer Leon's home, Maria expressed her fear that his father may not like her.

Upon reaching their house, Leon immediately looked for his father. But it was Baldo for whom the old man called.
"Did you meet anybody on the way?" he asked. 
"No, Father," I said. "Nobody passes through the Waig at night." 
He reached for his roll of tobacco and hitched himself up in the chair. 
"She is very beautiful, Father." 
"Was she afraid of Labang?" My father had not raised his voice, but the room seemed to resound with it. 
And again I saw her eyes on the long curving horns and the arm of my brother Leon around her shoulders. 
"No, Father, she was not afraid." 
"On the way---" 
"She looked at the stars, Father. And Manong Leon sang." 
"What did he sing?" 
"---Sky Sown with Stars... She sang with him." 
He was silent again.
When Leon and Maria entered the old man's room, Baldo was told to water Labang. And on his way out, he can’t help but notice Maria again.
I looked at Maria and she was lovely. She was tall. Beside my brother Leon, she was tall and very still. Then I went out, and in the darkened hall the fragrance of her was like a morning when papayas are in bloom.
The story started and ended in the description of the same person. It is easy to think that the story isn't about Leon. It is about Maria.

In fact, the road Leon's father told Baldo to take is also for Maria. If one considers how Baldo and Leon had difficulty in tying Labang to the cart, and even guiding him to the part where the camino real curves (because Labang wanted to go straight on), it is very apparent that even the animal isn't used to taking that road.

Why the old man decided that the visitor ride on the hay in a cart (in her high heels) and pass by the field instead of a more comfortable calesa in a shorter road isn't answered. The interrogation of Baldo (which doesn't provide straight answers, too) seemed to be inevitable, but nonetheless significant.

The epiphany in the story is very subtle. The falling action quite abrupt. What could remain in the readers' minds is the question of how Maria would keep her composure in front of the old man considering the journey they have just taken. She doesn't appear to have enough time to gather her thoughts and feeling, any more than she has time to rest.

And in the end. That's what the old man wants -- to see her for what she really is.

In his novel The Winner Stands Alone, Paulo Coelho wrote, “Life has many ways of testing a person's will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.” He implies that life is full of surprises. And a person's character is reflected by his or her reactions for both scenarios.

In Maria's case, everything seemed to happen all at once: her desire to look the best she could, only to be part of an uncomfortable journey, and then face a man whom everybody seemed to be scared of.

Instead of complaining, she spoke calmly, remained full of gaiety and laughter and finesse, and admired the beauty of nature that Ermita is forever bereft. She may not have gone through the tests of Psyche and Savitri, but in her own difficult journey, she stood out for what she really is -- a beautiful woman inside and out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Change by Angela Manalang-Gloria: An Analysis Invitation

(In which I have to stop myself.)


For three and a half years, I taught Asian and World Literature, along with other Com-Arts subjects, in the university. But if I have to choose which among the subjects I taught I loved most, I'd choose Literature in a heartbeat.

I like taking liberties when it comes to choosing literary pieces to teach. Sometimes, I even go as far as deviating from the syllabus. But don't get me wrong. I am not that kind of a rebel. However, when it comes to independently choosing pieces to teach, I always come back to a poem I learned in the Graduate School. 

But, wait. Before I get lost in analyzing this poem, I would like to remind you, readers, that this humble blog is a collection of my thoughts about books or literary texts I read. If it helped you in any academic way, then it served beyond its purpose. However, I believe this poem deserves respect that I implore you to veer off the Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V practice. Instead of spoon-feeding you, I invite you to relish this poem with me.

Angela Manalang-Gloria 

I have outgrown them all, and one by one, 

These loves I took so mightily to heart 
Before you came: the dolls that overran 
My childhood hours and taught me fairy art; 
The books I ravished by the censored score:
 Music that like delirium burned my days; 
The golden calf I fashioned to adore
When lately I forsook the golden phrase. 

And thus I shall outgrow this love for you. 

Sooner or later I shall put away 
This jewelled ecstasy for something new. 
Brand me not fickle on that fatal day: 
Bereft of change that is my drink and bread,
I would not love you now. I would be dead.

Just like most readers, when I first read the poem, all that remained with me is its beautiful rhythm – and maybe some other comprehension, but not a lot. But our professor, Dr. Ma. Lourdes G. Tayao, is such a gem in analyzing poetry. Whenever I read or teach this poem, I always thank her.

The poem, apparently, is about change. It talks about things we love and forget. We love out of a whim, or a habit, or a need. And then we leave them. And love something else.

The speaker in the poem also loved. In fact, she loved a lot of things:

... the dolls that overran 
My childhood hours and taught me fairy art; 
The books I ravished by the censored score:
 Music that like delirium burned my days; 
The golden calf I fashioned to adore
When lately I forsook the golden phrase. 

And those things she loved, might mean differently from each individual. But she loved them all nonetheless. And forgot them all, too.

The poem could easily be divided into two sections: the first is an elucidation of the things she loved in series. The second, a plea for understanding.

And thus I shall outgrow this love for you. 
Sooner or later I shall put away 
This jewelled ecstasy for something new. 
Brand me not fickle on that fatal day: 
Bereft of change that is my drink and bread,
I would not love you now. I would be dead.

At this point, we realize that true is the saying that "There is nothing constant in this world but change." For some, it is easy to accept. In other instances, it takes more than skepticism to reject and fear change. Sometimes, it's disillusionment, hurt and anger. 

When discussing this poem, I always ask my students:
  • Who is the speaker? What is the speaker's gender? Why?
  • What did the speaker love? Why do you think she left them?
  • Did you love the same things the speaker did? Do you still love those things? Why?
  • If this is a call for understanding, would you understand and forgive the speaker when that "fatal day" happened?

Readers, what's your answer?

Poem source:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pure by Julianna Baggott

(In which being a night owl isn't a very good idea sometimes.)


Dystopian YA fiction is so hot right now that its varieties can rival a detailed color chart. I do not know where that analogy came from. Or maybe I should blame the adult coloring book craze. But that's for another blog post.

When I read the synopsis for Julianna Baggott's Pure (the first book of the trilogy), I was filled with intrigue. There was a detonation that almost wiped humanity away. The survivors now lived a wretched life in a dead earth covered with gray ash. These survivors, however, can barely be called humans. Because of the detonation, their body got fused with the objects, people or animals near them, making them a horrifying living mosaic. Not everyone is wretched, though. A select few was saved and they lived inside a protected fortress known as the Dome. This is the world that Pressia Belze grew up in. 

Pressia dreads the day she turns sixteen because people at this age are gotten by OSR, a military organization. No one knows why. She also dreads leaving her sick grandfather behind. But when they came for her, she ran and met Bradwell, a rebel leader. Pressia and Bradwell are fused, just like everyone else. Pressia has a scar on her face and doll's head instead of a hand. Bradwell, on the other hand, has three living birds on his back. (Reading this late at night surely isn't that charming.)

With Bradwell's help, Pressia learns about the world before the detonations. Bradwell also expresses his hatred toward the people from the Dome and his plan to take them down.

Inside the Dome, a confused teenager named Partridge (son of Ellery Willux, the Dome's leader), wanted to know the truth behind his mother's death and miraculously escapes the tight-security facility.

He meets Pressia and the wretched and the deadly consequences of his escape unfurls.

Pure is such a heavy first book. Readers have to just accept the fact that a) the world is dead and basically everyone in it, b) but there are people who are still clean and fuse-free because, why not? and c) people in the outside world was somehow still able to survive. 

Add to the mix the confusing nanotechnology, a bunch of more horrendously fused people, a pair of complicated love story and you're in for a maze trip.

But accepting these simply doesn't erase the gnawing feeling of unease that there surely is more than the façade. And then you worry if a trilogy can answer all of your questions. But maybe it's just me and my impatience.

Questioning the existence and purpose of the characters is, of course, a major mover of this novel. It was just surprising, however, that the narrative flow of Pure confuses me when it has the same one as Game of Thrones.

Photo source

Friday, August 28, 2015

The School for Good and Evil: The Last Ever After

(In which the road to Ever After is always a difficult battle.)


Reading this book late at night gave me pimples. And all I can give it back is a blog post.

I can no longer clearly recall the details from the first two books of this series. If you need some refresher, click here for The School for Good and Evil book review.

Or maybe just watch this.

For The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes book review, click here.

And watch this, too.

If there is something about the first two books that strongly left me (and I say this with no remorse whatsoever) it's that I hate Sophie with a passion. And for good reason. She was a user and an abusive "bestfriend" to Agatha. Why and how Agatha fails to realize that Sophie is worse than a frenemy is beyond me (even after finishing the series). Or maybe I'm the close-minded one.

So it is no surprise how the first several chapters of this book began: Sophie is back on finding an ending befitting a princess for herself. And (insert adjective here) Agatha is always right there to clean up the mess.

When the School Master (whom everyone thought was Good, only to be revealed as Evil) took Sophie to his fortress after he almost killed Tedros, Sophie was left with a decision to either take the ring he offers her as a sign of their true, undying love, or let the sun die and the world along with it.

So she took the ring.

Only the ring makes the School Master (whose real name is Rafal) immortal as long as Sophie is wearing it. Sophie (is once again) deceived in her relentless pursuit of being a queen of a handsome boy from whatever kingdom.

And Agatha and Tedros' mission is, of course, to convince Sophie to destroy the ring herself (since no one else can) using the Excalibur and save the world.

And that was easier said than done. Unfortunately, time is running out. Evil also wanted their own happy ending. Villains are killing their Good nemeses.

The last book of Soman Chainani's series seems like something straight out of a Tolkien novel with some Filipino soap opera plot staples. But the backstories of famous fairy tales can definitely give Hollywood fairy tale reboots a run for their money – which is good since it's going to be turned into a movie soon.

Despite its childish façade, The Last Ever After insisted on the point that experience kept on emphasizing: that the obsessive pursuit of happiness is a trap sure to end in tragedy. True. Some parts of the story kept on transporting readers from suspending-disbelief to utter-disbelief zones ... and back. But it's a huge solace to know that love wins every time.

And just like the first two posts for this series, here's the wickedly transfixing book trailer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bridesmaids by Jane Costello

It's been a while. A lot has taken place, so reading and blogging have been pushed aside for so long I can no longer remember. But they're both back.

And since the hiatus seems to make me unprepared for reading all of a sudden, I restarted with a light read.

It opens up with the 27-year-old Evie, who was assigned as the bridesmaid for her bestfriend Grace' wedding. Her main task is to make the bride ready to walk down the aisle. 

That wasn't an easy task. 

When Grace finally got ready minutes before the ceremony, Evie then decided to slip in some breast enhancers she calls "chicken fillets". She looks as gorgeous as she can be. Only the chicken fillets popped out. And the ridiculously handsome Jack saw it.

So apparently her love story with Jack ended before it even started. And to make matters worse, Jack is dating her self-proclaimed Angelina Jolie look-alike friend, Valentina.

But just when she thought all hope is lost, Chance had its own way to play with all of them.

A light and easy read, Bridesmaids is a big beautiful promise of a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. Its humorous take on life's hardest situations makes it as realistic as any reader could hope it could be. Three quarters to the novel and you'll feel tricked, though. The humor can be so successful in leading you away from a huge elephant in the room. But worry not. Jane's got you covered. At the end of the story you'll realize that happily ever after, as well as fashion tastes, is very relative.

Currently reading:

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