Jose Rizal

Literary Snobbery Series

The LSS Book List, Part 6

Visit the The LSS Book List page for more information about this post.


No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) and Other Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (1961, M) – GGM is famous for magical realism, but that doesn’t mean that he’s only as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. Try this collection of realist short stories (no insomniac towns, traveling blood, or women rising up to the heavens above) and you’ll realize that the man is indeed a master of the written word. The last story can’t help

Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by José Rizal (1887, H) – I had a little trouble with this entry because this is required reading in Philippine high schools. But this isn’t internationally popular like those European or Latin American or Japanese novels. And how about reading this for pleasure and in a translation other than Filipino (in my case, English)? Or better yet, how about in Spanish?

Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Number9Dream by David Mitchell (2001, M) – Eiji Miyake has never met his father. He goes on a journey to come to good terms with his past. This coming of age novel intersperses reality with fantasy. Plot narration is interwoven with journal entries and children’s stories. Any David Mitchell novel would perfectly fit on this list, but there’s an added bonus for this book: you’d find yourself humming “Was it all a dream, it seems so real to me….”

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979, H) – A small, tightly knit community of people living on boats. People who don’t belong to the land or to the sea. People who are displaced. It’s a short novel that packs a wallop, like a tidal wave arriving so suddenly and leaving you rather senseless on a shore of awe.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962, L) – A prison novel that shows us the daily humdrum in the life of the eponymous character. From day to night, the reader gets a tour of what’s it like to work in frigid temperatures with stomachs fed only by stale bread and tepid soup. This is a tale of the human spirit’s resilience despite the seemingly insurmountable adversities minus the melodrama.

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken) by Kenzaburō Ōe (1964, H) – Bird is about to be a father. When his son is finally born, he finds out that the infant is severely deformed. He runs away from the responsibility of raising the child. He loses his job, wastes himself on alcohol, revives an affair with a former lover, and spirals down to the abyss of his unknown dark self. This is made of pretty strong stuff and is a definite representative of great Japanese literature.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher (Die Klavierspielerin) by Elfriede Jelinek (1983, H) – Erika Kohut teaches the piano at the Vienna Conservatory. She is strict, austere, and rather conservative. But that’s just the surface. When she is left to herself, outside the circle of music teachers and students, she goes to peep shows and seeks to rebel. She writes a long letter to one of her students, telling him of her masochistic desires. Pornographic or not, the tension it gives the reader is worth the time.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (1970, M) – Maria Wyeth is a so-so actress who is now recovering in a mental institution. The novel is made up of short chapters as if they were snippets of conversations or flashes of memory. Decadence surrounds Maria, and this doesn’t help as she spirals down to her breakdown. What is her purpose? Don’t ask.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, L) – What would this list be if there were no entry about literary scholars researching the private lives of literary heroes? Present day academicians Roland and Maud discover a seemingly innocuous letter that leads them to unearth the secret love affair between Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. This is a real thrill of a literary mystery, replete with all the requisite Victorian poetry.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (1975, L) – A big novel with at least three plot lines, this is a fun book where you get to see historical figures from the 1900s interact with fictional characters. There’s Houdini meditating on his fame, JP Morgan being told off by Henry Ford, Freud and Jung in Coney Island, and more. It almost resists interpretation and this is why it’s irresistible.

Stay tuned for Part 7.

Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])


This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).

TFG’s Year in Posters

2012 is nearly coming to its end. Our book club has even recently finished discussing this year’s last book of the month, which deserves an entirely different post. In the unlikely event that the Mayans got their calculations right, I would like to take this opportunity to sort of honor the lovely event posters that the 12 discussion leaders have prepared in line with the monthly book discussions.

Without further ado, here they are. Click the thumbnails to view the large version of the images. Enjoy!

Lovely, aren’t they? And just for the sake of fun, what is your favorite poster regardless of the book? Please select one from the list below. It’s my first time to post a poll on my blog (hurrah!) so I would appreciate it if you participate. Thanks!

And tada! Here’s our new shiny logo. Credits go to my office mate who shall remain unnamed. He requested not to let people know that he designed this logo. Still, if you, dear office mate, are reading this, a lot of people are saying thanks for the amazing job that you did.

Let’s view the photos one more time!

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Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

1896 Revisited – Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Back in junior high school, I borrowed my cousin’s red textbook with Jose Rizal’s portrait on the front cover for my Filipino class. It is not his biography, but yes, there are biographical notes that are part of the book’s introduction. We are to read this book, Noli Me Tangere, for the remaining months of that school year. Prior to that, we tackled various literary works in Filipino. These are classic plays and short stories, such as Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti (The Story of Mabuti – Mabuti is translated as Good, but in the story’s context, it is best to retain the Filipino word) by Genoveva Edroza-Matute, Moses, Moses by Rogelio Sikat, Mabangis na Lungsod (Savage City) by Efren Abueg, and Walang Panginoon (Godless) by Deogracias Rosario.

I thoroughly enjoyed these, and I thought that they were good materials to prepare us for the reading of probably the single and most quintessential novel that the Philippines will ever produce. Noli Me Tangere, our national hero’s magnum opus, is an important work that it is a required reading in Philippine high schools. Set during the Spanish colonial rule, it satirizes the Manila society of the late 19th century. It is also a searing observation of the Church’s unbecoming behavior towards the Filipinos. Written because of Rizal’s want for reforms, the novel exposes the abuses that the Spanish officials and friars heaped upon our ancestors in political, social, and yes, religious aspects.

As it is with most books that we are forced to read, a lot of us high schoolers didn’t take it seriously. This is one of the reasons that there seems to be a need to reread the novel not as a student trying to merely graduate. I, however, had a different experience with it. I enjoyed every chapter of the novel and it inspired patriotic feelings in me. I also found myself thanking my lucky stars for not being born during the Spanish colonial rule.

So it is with a little anxiety that I reread the book. I do not want to destroy my feelings for it because I know I have changed so much as a reader. More so, it is hard as a Filipino not to glorify the novel. We owe it our independence. It enlightened the enduring masses and helped spark the Philippine Revolution. We might have been still called indios had this historical event not taken place.

How many books in the world were able to do that? Not a big bunch, right? It is indeed a rare feat, so yes, the pen proves again and again that it is mightier than whatever sharp-edged or exploding weapon that you can take a hold of. But I wonder, how does it affect foreign readers? How would non-Filipinos feel if they read it? Would they even bother to read it?

Are the themes in the novel still relevant in the modern 21st century?

“Elías, your bitter words have pierced my heart. They also cause me to doubt. What would you have me do? I have not been brought up among the people whose needs, perhaps, I am not aware of. I spent my childhood in a Jesuit school, I grew up in Europe, I have been developed by books and I have read only what men have been able to bring to light. What remains behind in the shadows, what writers failed to write about, I ignore. For all that, I love, as you do, our country, not only because it is the duty of each man to love the country to which he owes his being and which, perhaps, should be his last refuge, not only because my father had taught me thus, because my mother was a native and because all my most lovely memories dwell in her; I love her besides because I owe her and will owe her my happiness!”

“And I because I owe her my misfortune!” murmured Elías.

Noli Me Tangere is, at the core, the love story of Crisostomo Ibarra, a rich and educated Filipino, and Maria Clara, the ideal Filipina. Their marriage is thwarted by meddling friars and the turbulent politics of that time. Ibarra, upon his return from his studies in Europe, finds out that his father died while in prison. To make matters worse, his grave was desecrated and his body was thrown somewhere else. He sets these aside and continues to dream of a better future for the Filipinos by building a school. Attempts on his life are taken, and thanks to the vehement warnings of the revolutionary Elias, his more or less unrefined counterpart, his life is saved.

Ibarra and Elias both love the country so both hope for a better one, but they believe in different means to achieve it. The former goes for peaceful negotiations while the latter is up for necessary evils. We read about their political and philosophical insights throughout the novel, and with these, its intentions are realized.

Now, let me say something as a reader who picks up his books for entertainment. On my second reading, I found out that there are many parts where some characters are given a good number of pages to declaim about their political opinions. The plot development is rather slow, and I think there are a number of characters that could be taken out without affecting the outcome of the novel. In fact, one chapter was taken out from the original manuscript during the first publication due to financial matters.

The verb tense also shifts from past to present to past, and the narrative voice can get annoying with its jumpiness and inclination to gossip and disregard for the more important things that are already at hand. It takes pleasure in relating events that cancels the suspense built on the preceding ones. Okay, I feel that I’ve committed a great deal of blasphemy just by pointing these out, but as I mentioned, I am now giving my take on it as a reader.

4 star - really liked itAnd it’s funny. I should have better understood the novel or should have appreciated it more, no? This just goes to show that second readings are entirely different and separate experiences from the first. I trudged through it really slowly, like a fully clothed man dragging himself through thick mud. It was only at the last parts that I appreciated it again.

But when I think of the writer’s intentions, these little nuances can be forgiven. The readers of that time had more patience to deal with the more florid parts of the novel, so probably the book could have been pitch-perfect. But really, what’s perfect about this novel is what it achieved. Its voice still resounds that remembrance of what the Philippines used to be. That there were friars who sexually abused our women. That there were town officials who senselessly tortured our men. That there were civil guards who mercilessly shot our children. That there were Filipinos who looked down on their fellow countrymen. That there were Filipinos who dreamed of independence. That there were Filipinos who suffered and struggled for it.

So there. Although this novel can manage to be enjoyable, it is not read only because of that. For foreigners, it’s a look into another culture and a supplementary study in Asian history. For us, it’s a reexamination of our roots and an appreciation of our identities as Filipinos. And for all, it’s a reminder to value our independence and to shield it from modern day oppressors.

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.)

Thirteen Translations

Quarterly Rhapsody: Translated Books

Quarterly RhapsodyI almost forgot my quarterly feature, which is a post where I ramble about book-related stuff. Previous topics that I discussed in Quarterly Rhapsody, if you are interested, are:

So for the third quarter of the year, let’s talk about books translated into other languages. This topic has been bothering me for the past couple of weeks, and we have two books to blame: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. For the first book, I have this unquenchable desire to immediately read the translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy. As for the second book, I was going to start reading Ralph Manheim’s translation when by some accident, I found out that he made some omissions from the original text.

I put it back on my shelf and asked the local book stores if they have the Breon Mitchell translation available. I’m luckier with this one; I am currently reading it and I am not making a lot of progress because I often find myself comparing it with the older translation that propelled Grass to worldwide fame and ultimately, to the Nobel.

With my minor comparisons (really, I just picked some notorious paragraphs and winding sentences), I found out that the meaning is not lost. The thought is still there, although one could discern the style of the translator with his diction. Let’s take the opening paragraph of each translation.

From Manheim:

Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole  in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed like me.

From Mitchell:

Granted: I’m an inmate in a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of sight, for there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can’t see through blue-eyed types like me.

Not a lot of difference, right? Yes, but for the reader who’s sensitive to style, there’s something to consider. Disclaimer: I am no literary person. I didn’t major in the letters, I don’t work in the publishing industry. I am merely a reader who appreciates some style.

So please check out that second semi-colon in Manheim’s version; it is dropped in Mitchell’s version. The first translation sounds a little terse to me because of the repeated punctuation mark; the other one is more fluid, which is, according to Grass himself, the narrator’s manner of speaking. This is may be something only for the finicky reader, but if we consider the cumulative effect of trying to make the two languages as parallel as possible, it is worth obsessing which translation to read.

The rest of the first page consists mostly of differences in word choice. Everything seems to be present. I wonder what’s omitted from the older translation?

Two Tin Drums

Two Tin Drums

I jumped to the afterword and found out that there weren’t more than five whole sentences omitted. One of them is about a comparison of a smell with that of a condom, and another one is about the splattering of semen somewhere. Others are hard to translate German dialogues that play with sound and style, and these were either dropped or translated into readable English.

To illustrate that, here’s another example, and with this, we will truly appreciate the insurmountable effort that translators put in their craft.

From the original text:

Auch fiel mir auf, das Tätigkeiten wie: Daumendrehen, Stirnrunzeln, Köpfchensenken, Händeschütteln, Kindermachen, Falschgeldprägen, Lichtausknipsen, Zähneputzen, Totschießen und Trockenlegen überall, wenn auch nicht gleichmäßig geschickt, geübt wurden.

From Manheim:

I also saw that activities such as thumb-twiddling, frowning, looking up and down, handshaking, making babies, counterfeiting, turning out the light, brushing teeth, shooting people, and changing diapers were being practiced all over the world, though not always with the same skill.

From Mitchell:

And I saw too that activities like thumb-twiddling, brow-wrinkling, head-nodding, hand-shaking, baby-making, coin-faking, light-dousing, tooth-brushing, man-killing, and diaper-changing were being engaged in all over the world, if not always with equal skill.

Whoa! I don’t understand German, but looking at those German words mostly ending in -en (an assonance or consonance?), there’s a rhythmic pattern produced. And that took some time to type; I had to be loyal to the diacritical marks.

The same issue of being loyal to stylistic sound effects pervades the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. Take this short sentence: Kápli kápali. Obviously an alliteration, but older translations dropped the effect and turned it instead into “The branches dripped,” or “The trees were dripping.” The duo, which are my favorite translators, went with “Drops dripped.”

Also, the duo kept the French dialogues unchanged. That made reading the novel a little tougher since I had to refer to the footnotes for the English translations. Other translations, such as Constance Garnett’s, translated everything into English. Nothing wrong, but it felt that everyone was speaking the some tongue, which I think isn’t the effect intended by Tolstoy.

I trust PV when it comes to Russian literature

I trust PV when it comes to Russian literature

We barely have a clue on how translators work their magic and how they go about their translations. Should they be loyal to the text or should they make the text more readable? Should they preserve the feel and culture of the text or should they make the text fit the feel and culture of the language where it is being translated?

I can’t help pondering these questions because I love world literature. I want to read novels from as many countries as possible. I guess it’s my way of traveling and learning about the world. There’s so little time and we can only do so much. Not all of us can travel everywhere in this lifetime or learn the languages of lofty literature, so we have to thank these translators who do the dirty tasks for us.

In the photo below are shown some books which are not originally written in English and which I rated with either 4 or 5 stars. Below are their original titles and the translators I am indebted to:

  • 2666 – ditto (translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer)
  • Atomised (UK); The Elementary Particles (US) – Les Particules Élémentaires (translated from French by Frank Wynne)
  • Fatelessness – Sorstalanság (translated from Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson)
  • The Gospel According to Jesus Christ – O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero)
  • Hunger – Sult (translated from Norwegian by Robert Bly)
  • Independent People – Sjálfstætt Fólk (translated from Icelandic by J. A. Thompson)
  • The Land of Green Plums – Herztier (translated from German by Michael Hofmann)
  • My Name Is Red – Benim Adım Kırmızı (translated from Turkish by Erdağ M. Göknar)
  • Noli Me Tangere – ditto (translated from Spanish by Soledad Lacson-Locsin)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – Cien Años de Soledad (translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa)
  • The Piano Teacher – Die Klavierspielerin (translated from German by Joachim Neugroschel)
  • The Tin Drum – Die Blechtrommel (translated from German by Breon Mitchell)
  • War and Peace – Война и миръ (translated from Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
Thirteen Translations

Thirteen Translations

Some notes on this list: I guess I’d have to hunt for other translations of my favorite book, Hunger. There are two more by George Egerton and Sverre Lyngstad. And look! That’s nine languages of great literature!

And oh, I made it seem here that Breon Mitchell is butchering Ralph Manheim’s work. That is not the case. The former is actually very grateful to the latter. He just had the great opportunity to work with Gunter Grass himself in coming up with a 50th anniversary edition of his first novel. He also mentioned that new translations for great works of literature are necessary for they do not endure as long as the original text. In addition, new translations of any work do not seek to be a better edition. Rather, they present different reading experiences that are totally separate from each other.

So if I get the translation that I don’t dig, I shouldn’t worry too much, right? I guess I should just do some more research when it comes to this matter. And good thing that I learned early on that the Fahnestock-MacAfee translation of Les Miserables is the one that I might enjoy. The book is just too damn long for me to read another translation of it.