177 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

December 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Poor Oscar. Without even realizing it he’d fallen into one of those Let’s-Be-Friends Vortexes, the bane of nerdboys everywhere. These relationships were love’s version of a stay in the stocks, in you go, plenty of misery guaranteed and what you got out of it besides bitterness and heartbreak nobody knows. Perhaps some knowledge of self and of women.

Fuku. Zafa. Call me naïve even simpleton but I do believe in luck, both the good and bad kind. I do believe that there are people out there who were born to live the Good Life. They don’t have to do any thing much to get what they want. They sit by, their dreams happen. Everything just works out for them, like magic.

And then there are those who sweat blood, break bones, lose limbs—still they get nothing. It is their curse to live the Doomed Life and meet a most bitter end. For them, happiness is nothing more than a glimmer, meant to simply tease mock torment them.

Oscar Wao, fat awkward nerd, personifies fuku. The likes of him derives zafa from only this: “Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking.”

But just to be clear, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is not a mere binary opposition between fuku and zafa. Junot Diaz so cleverly skillfully spellbindingly weaves his narrative with historical accounts, political commentary, pop culture references, and volumes of nerd talk.

In the Philippines, we had Marcos. In the Dominican Republic, they had Trujillo. Now we know Satan spawned a number of diablitos. And they’re everywhere.

176 Salt Dancers

December 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I turned four, my father taught me the salt dance: he sprinkled a line of salt on the living room floor, positioned my bare feet on top of his shoes, and told me leave everything behind that line. His gold-flecked eyes high above me, he walked me across that salt border into my brand-new year—he backward, I forward—my chin tilted against the buttons of his silk vest.

I get Julia for keeping a grudge against her father who, under the influence of alcohol, beat her when she was a child. But I don’t get how easily she forgives her mother who abandoned her and her brother when they were still children and never bothered (of course she claims she did) to see them again even when they were already grown-ups and the reason (she left because their father was abusive and violent) for abandoning them long gone. She cheated on their father, became pregnant with her lover, and left them. What it all comes down to is this: she murdered them, buried them, and got on with her life.

Ursula Hegi’s “Salt Dancers” is overly dramatic as to be almost formulaic in its discernible attempt to be a heartbreaker but it somehow provides a platform for debate on betrayal and forgiveness between father/daughter on the one hand and between mother/daughter on the other. Yes, the son is not part of the equation because he does not at all seem affected. Why so, I honestly am clueless.

175 The Gardens of Kyoto

December 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

There is a garden in Kyoto, Koto-in, built by a warrior in the early seventeenth century, in the years when Shakespeare wrote, than can only be viewed through a window. The window hangs at the end of a long stone walk lined with maples that have been pruned in a way to filter sunlight onto the stones in the shapes of Japanese characters. Words formed at particular times of day, in certain seasons, are read and recited by the visitors to the garden as they walk the stone path, repeated in the way of Japanese poems, their authorship sometimes credited to the Koto-in maples, sometimes to the Koto-in stones. Other Koto-in poems remain unfinished.

I find Kate Walbert’s pacing of her “The Gardens of Kyoto” a tad confusing that I fail to connect Negro slavery with the World War with transcendent gardens with young love and with a whole lot of other stuffy subjects.

But it does allow this thought to, in my mind, stream by: how to feel about losing someone you love deeply even before you could make truly haunting memories with them?

174 Pope Joan

November 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

When the boys at the schola began to take notice of her budding breasts, she bound them tightly with strips of cloth. It was painful, but the effect was worth it. Her gender had been a source of misery and frustration for as long as she could remember, and she meant to fight this emerging evidence of her femininity as long as possible.

Donna Woolfolk Cross tells “Pope Joan” so convincingly thoughtfully movingly powerfully that I do not care if Vatican denies and lies about Joan’s existence. I just want her to be someone who actually lived. Someone who lived exactly the kind of life she wanted for herself despite the colossal odds.

Joan of Ingelheim has to be a real person. Her whole life embodies the truism, this: Any (wo)man should be free to live as he/she chooses. Vatican admits to having had corrupt imbecile evil popes. Yet it denies having had one who was smart kind accomplished pious albeit a woman. How sick is that?

173 Gentlemen of the Road

November 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Filaq wiped the blade on the flap of his tunic and then handed it back haft first. “Thank you for saving my life,” he said.

“I don’t save lives,” Zelikman said. “I just prolong their futility.”

I didn’t suspect it at all. That there’s something special buried under that comical exchange between Filaq and Zelikman. Something unexpected. Something awesome.

A horse-and-swords adventure, “Gentlemen of the Road” is certainly packed with rousing swashbuckling action. And the language, it’s so filigreed the old-school way it probably actually dates back to A.D. 950.

Talk of adventure, author Michael Chabon put it quite aptly and crisply: “Because adventures befall the unadventuresome as readily, if not as frequently, as the bold. Adventures are a logical and reliable result—and have been since at least the time of Odysseus—of the fatal act of leaving one’s home, or trying to return to it again. All adventure happens in that damned and magical space, wherever it may be found or chanced upon, which least resembles one’s home.”

172 A Little Princess

November 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

There is nothing so nice as supposing. It’s almost like being a fairy. If you suppose anything hard enough it seems as if it were real.

But for the uncanny verisimilitude that throws me way back to my childhood, I would have easily tossed Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess” into the melodrama bin. What it’s about is commonplace; its denouement—everything magically falling into their proper place to resolve Sara’s woes—too convenient to be believable.

Sara is probably the luckiest-unluckiest-luckiest girl in the world. I know of one just like her. It’s a friend from grade school. This friend had the coolest, most amazing toys in our street; and he always had a new one every time I’d come visit him in his house. He was sort of a drawing wunderkind too, so he always had new art materials.

Then his father died. He stopped getting new toys, new clothes. He stopped going to school. I didn’t see him for a long time. When I saw him again, he was driving a pedicab. Then I saw him again in the marketplace, doing errands for the meat vendors. I would also see him in the town bakery, helping sell bread. He was everywhere, always working his very thin body to exhaustion.

I saw him everywhere. But I never played with him again. I never talked to him again. I never went to his house again. Of course I felt sorry for him. I wanted us to still be friends but, seeing him in his dirty, worn out clothes, it felt like looking at someone I did not know. At all. He was so changed, I did not know what to say to him.

And then he just vanished. I never saw him again. From what I heard, he relocated to Zamboanga City. He has his own family now. Runs his own business. Like Sara, he probably became the luckiest boy again.

171 Hallowe’en Party

November 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Nothing could be more agreeable than a juicy English apple — And yet here were apples mixed up with broomsticks, and witches, and old-fashioned folklore, and a murdered child.

In “Hallowe’en Party,” Agatha Christy takes on a most disconcerting subject. A child drowned in the middle of a festivity. But thank heavens for Hercule Poirot—who was not even at the revelry—such crime will not go unsolved and its perpetrator unpunished.

Of the conspiring murderers, I guessed the one but not the other. I always fall for beautiful gentle kind facades. Dammit.

Poirot must have a very clear head. His deductions are simply unassailable, his conclusions infallible, his insights clean and self-assured. Here’s the unrivaled Poirot:

But to everything that happens there has to be a past. A past which is by now incorporated in today, but which existed yesterday or last month or last year. The present is nearly always rooted in the past.


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