The Greatest Novel of the Philippines

TFG’s Book of the Month for August: Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Our country celebrates Buwan ng Wika (Language Month, literally) every August, so our book club made it a point that we nominate Filipino novels for the said month. Of course, the books nominated are obscure to my international readers (heh!), and what do you know? The book that we, as Filipino high school students, were required to read won the polls.

A background: Jose Rizal is our country’s national hero. He’s a little bit of everything: a doctor, a linguist, a poet, an essayist, and yes, a novelist. His greatest novel, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), is his monumental work, a book so powerful that it sparked the Philippine Revolution during the Spanish era in the late 1800s. It was first published in Germany, and its original language is Spanish. It has been translated to many languages, and the edition that we read back in high school was in our language, Filipino.

So this time, I read an English translation, one by a fellow Filipino. I’ll stop talking about the novel now for I might run out of things to say for my proper write-up on it. Let’s now focus on the book discussion itself, which is the point of this monthly post.

This is the first time that I didn’t finish reading the book of the month. I had around 30 pages left when the discussion started. I comforted myself with the vague remembrance that I have of the novel’s ending. I was also expecting tough questions because the novel is filled with a lot of symbols, a lot of themes, a lot this and that, and oops, my expectations were not met.

Our discussion leader, Ayban, structured the discussion so that no one will die of brain hemorrhage. He made us draw lots. The strips of paper contain names of the characters in the novel (there’s a multitude of them), and whoever it is that we pick, we will emulate them. We will be then asked various questions by the discussion leader and the participants as if we were that character. Questions like why did you do this, whatever happened to you, what were you thinking when this happened, et al, were thrown at us.

Such an approach to the book discussion was surprisingly fun. The participants were expecting me to pick Sisa, a hapless woman gone mad, or Maria Clara, the love interest of the lead character, Crisostomo Ibarra. Unfortunately, I picked Padre Damaso, which is quite a challenge because he is one of the main antagonists in the novel. He holds a lot of secrets that his revelations were placed at the penultimate chapter of the novel (excluding the epilogue).

I only remember two questions thrown at me probably because I find it hard to emulate an old disdainful Spanish friar. They asked me what I felt when Ibarra attacked me and how I died. I’m sure there were more substantial questions that stumped me, as always, but for the life of me, I cannot recall them now.

A coffee mug!
A coffee mug!

And look at that! These special mugs were distracting me! I had to do my best because I felt that the best “performer” will get a chance at taking one for himself. I’d like to think that I was considered as one of the best, thanks to my modern take on the role, which is, by the way, a huge deviation from how Padre Damaso is characterized in the novel. Unfortunately, I was not given a mug because I already won a special messenger bag made of canvas prior to the discussion proper.

How did I win? The online discussion had a pointing system. The points that I earned were enough for me to secure one bag. Hurray! It pays to participate in online discussions. Thank you! And oh, I hid it inside my backpack because someone was eyeing it, hahaha!

The Attendees of the Eighth TFG Face to Face Book Discussion
The Attendees of the Eighth TFG Face to Face Book Discussion

Noli Me Tangere Book Discussion Details

  • Date: August 25, 2012
  • Place: Ristorante delle Mitre, Gen. Luna St., Intramuros, Manila
  • Time: 12 PM to 3 PM
  • Attendees: Me, AaronAlona, Ayban (discussion leader), Bennard, Billy, Cary (after the discussion), Ella, Ingrid (after the discussion), JL, Jzhun, KD, KwesiMiss Louize, Mae (newbie), Patrick, Po, Reev (newbie), Rhena (newbie), Sheryl, Tina, Miss Veronica.
  • Food I Ate: Beef salpicao with garlic and mushroom, tinola (a dish cooked with chicken, green papaya, and chili pepper in broth flavored with ginger and onions; this dish is referenced in the novel).

After the discussion, we toured around Intramuros, a historical district in Manila. It used to be the government’s seat during the Spanish colonization. It’s a usual field trip itinerary, and would you believe that it was my first time to be there? That could only mean that I went to unusual schools.

Another group shot
Another group shot
And another one
And another one

(Photos courtesy of  EllaKwesi, and Miss Louize.)

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