Thursday, September 06, 2012

Olvidon and Other Stories by F. Sionil Jose 

First an introduction to the writer, whom I guess not many will be familiar with. Born in 1924 F. Sionil Jose is the grand old man of Filipino literature. He is still active with a steady stream of novels and a host of regular newspaper columns. He is perhaps best known for his five novel Rosales saga which covered a hundred years of Philippine history from 1872 to the introduction of Martial Law in the country in 1972.

Indeed the introduction of Martial Law and its effect on the general population is a constant feature in Olvidon and Other Stories.  The title story "Olvidon" focuses on Dr. Puro, a doctor with a lucrative medical practice in Boston. Puro is asked by The Leader (obviously Ferdinand Marcos) to return to the country and treat him for a skin disease which has left the normally virile leader a nervous wreck. It is an open secret that Puro has no love for his country, and regards his countrymen with scorn and derision. In order to entice him to stay The Leader provides him with the most up to date medical equipment, a plush residence and a whole host of beautiful women.

The good doctor agrees to remain in the country of his birth and to discover a cure for the ailing president. He soon discovers however that The Leader is suffering from an unknown disease which he names white dermatitis. It soon becomes apparent however that most of The Leader's cabinet, his wife and generals are also succumbing to the disease. It's a clever metaphor for the corruption which is eating away at the elite while the country goes down the tubes.

Time and again the theme of a lack of empathy on behalf of the elites be they, political, economic or cultural occurs again and again. In "Imagination" an aging university professor enters a massage parlour where he meets one of his students working there. As she explains through her embarrassment she needs the money in order to complete the course. Otherwise........

While in "Friendship", Minister Arcadio Guzman, a man who considers himself of some importance but who is little more than a lapdog for the president ignores and treats with contempt a plea for help fro a former associate who has fallen foul of the regime.

"Wounds" presents us with a tale of a young Japanese women, a daughter of a Japanese associate of a Filipino businessman. She has decided to travel for a week to The Philippines in order to experience the country and in particular see the massive banana plantations which cover the provinces. Well she achieves her wish but in the process observes all the social wounds of the country in close proximity.

No one is free from Sionil Jose scorn, "The Mistress" features an established artist now in his sixties who encounters one of the women he has leeched off and treated contemptuously in the past. The woman in question can barely afford dinner and quite rightly treats with derision his request that she give him her compassion.

If the reader is looking for a reflection of life in The Philippines they could no better than to pick up a copy of F. Sionil Jose collection. First published in 1988 "Olvidon and Other Stories" countinues to enthral, enrage and educate in equal measure.


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