It could just be me, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado. I liked the way the writer incorporated different forms of media and literature, all of which eventually made sense as the story developed, into one cohesive work, but I was just … okay with it. It’s not a very long book, but it took me a while to finish. (This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say though. I have a bunch.)
Because I like my history, let’s first talk about the title, Ilustrado.
For context, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 333 years (I am not making this number up) from 1565 to 1898. The word “Ilustrado” referred to people from the Philippines who obtained their education abroad, in Mother Spain. This exposed them to liberal ideas, and they came back seeking to reform Spanish colonial rule (to turn the Philippines into a Spanish province instead of just a colony). Think: Jose Rizal and Plaridel.
But why use a word so old that it was used in history books?
Lysley Tenorio’s Felix Starro, a short story in Monstress, is about an old man and his grandson, both of whom are named Felix Starro, a faith-healing duo who perform Extractions of Negativities, a ritual of such profound spiritual healing that some blood is shed in the process. (If no blood is shed, which is very rare, the client is deemed “clean” from negativity.)
What? Is this person a shaman? Maybe. After all, Filipino culture (this is a compilation of Philippine literature that I found in the bookstore!) subscribes to a lot of superstitious and supernatural beliefs (see East of the Sun and Fallow’s Flight for other short reads), so I’m not surprised that people line up and, better yet, pay for an Extraction.
The story also covers migration; a few decades ago, Filipinos, with hopes of greener pastures, began migrating to the US. The problem is that they seem to think that time has stood still in the Philippines while they lived their lives anew in the US, and so we have Filipino Americans still raving about Felix Starro while the rest of the Philippines has moved on.
Well, greener pastures do not necessarily mean a life abroad. For the young Felix Starro, it means leaving the family business, Extractions. A new life, however, comes at a cost, and the young Felix eventually realizes: for every decision, sacrifices must be made.
A part two to last week’s Short Bites, here’s another story from Dean Francis Alfar’s How to Traverse Terra Incognita: Fallow’s Flight. The story follows an elderly dragon, Fallow, who is mourning the death of his daughter, Glorious, who perished in battle. This story is in Chapter 5, Get to Know the Locals, of the collection, and, in this case, dragons are the locals. (Check out East of the Sun for a glimpse of Chapter 4, Understand the Culture.)
Francis Dean Alfar does not only tell a story but also gives a commentary on society. This short read makes you think more critically about the wars that must be fought and our brave warriors risking their lives for the greater good.
The interesting part of the story is that the ongoing war is simply the norm. No explanation was ever given as to what had started the war; it had just always existed. I wish they told us what noble thing our great dragon warriors were fighting for. It didn’t seem to be freedom, for the dragon warriors were not in an oppressed society…
It doesn’t sound too different from the real world, does it? Can someone please tell me how to determine whether our great dragon warriors have gone too far? Thanks.