Coming Soon: “Demigods and Monsters: Stories”

 

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On F. Sionil Jose’s Antiquated Racial Nationalism

Some people never learn from their mistakes. The National Artist F. Sionil Jose is evidently one of them. On ne transforme pas un bourrin en cheval de course.  Or as the Americans prefer to put it: you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

In his latest Star column, Jose has decided to drop all pretense, ditch all qualifiers–hedging adjectives like “some,” “many,” and “most”–and go all out in his sweeping, lazy generalizations about “the Chinese”:

“Realize that 80 percent of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of ethnic Chinese. They came to the Philippines with nothing, and became wealthy through exploitation of the land and the people. The priority, therefore, is for us now to see to it that the economic power of these ethnic Chinese, whose loyalty to the Philippines is in doubt, should be emasculated. The silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue is deafening. Vietnam is a very good model.

“Vietnam has not hesitated to fight the Chinese frontally and yet maintains a close relationship with China. Its economy had been dominated by ethnic Chinese. Cholon, then Saigon’s busiest district, was actually a Chinese enclave. After the triumph of the Revolution in 1975, Vietnam applied a simple solution to its China problem. The Chinese were simply expelled and their properties were confiscated. Several Chinese establishments were set up through the following years, but during the riots some three years ago, when China set up an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, to which the Vietnamese objected furiously, the Chinese factories in Vietnam were burned.”

Jose decries the “silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue.” If Filipino Chinese are silent on the issue, it’s because they have no idea what Jose is talking about.

Where, for instance, did Jose get the statistics showing that “80% of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of the ethnic Chinese”? Where is his proof that these ethnic Chinese became wealthy “through exploitation of the land and the people” and how would he know that these ethnic Chinese are disloyal? Judging by the responses of Teresita Ang-See and Leloy Claudio to similar racist remarks made by Solita “Winnie” Monsod in her Inquirer columns last December, such blanket generalizations about the “ethnic Chinese”–even the “wealthy” ones–are indefensible, both intellectually and morally.

I cannot think of any intellectually rigorous research vetted by, and published in, reputable international journals and presses that makes a case for the ethnic Chinese controlling 80% of the Philippine economy.

In fact, we don’t even know how big the ethnic Chinese community is–or if we can even call it a community at all. There are plenty of Filipinos of Chinese ancestry, bearing Chinese surnames like Lim or Tan, who do not identify as ethnic Chinese. Are they to be subject to expulsion and seizure of property as well?

Moreover, the “1.5%-of-population” rough estimate is based on projections from postwar statistics that do not factor in the all-important criteria of self-identification, changes in citizenship, outmigration, among others. Most of the academic studies that cite this figure are careful to point out the problems with such an estimate.

Instead of Indonesia, Jose now cites the Vietnamese expulsion and confiscation of property of the Chinese as a worthy model for the Philippines. Jose may look to Southeast Asian racial nationalism for inspiration, but Filipinos who know their history are quick to realize that Jose is merely plagiarizing from the playbook of our Spanish colonizers, who periodically engaged in expulsion and confiscation of properties.

Should we be thankful at least that, in this particular column, Jose is not actively inciting and justifying violence against the ethnic Chinese, as he did in 1999?

I have argued before in my book, The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines, that what is interesting and important about Filipino citizenship is the fact that, unlike our neighbors in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, our state does not continue to tabulate and track the ethnicity of foreigners once they have acquired Filipino citizenship.

This is the reason we do not have accurate statistics on our so-called ethnic Chinese. This lack of accuracy, far from being an impediment, is actually a blessing, because it frees us Filipinos to imagine our nation–and what it means to be Filipino–in ways that avoid the racism and exclusionary impulses of a narrow kind of nationalist dogma.

Because in the eyes of the law, our citizens are counted and treated as Filipinos, because our country refuses to define Filipino in racial terms, our people have avoided the large-scale racial discrimination and violence that have marred the histories of our neighboring countries. (Tragically, however, this doesn’t mean that Filipinos aren’t capable of discriminating and going to war against fellow Filipinos.) Refusing a nationalism built on racist exclusion is not something we ought to be ashamed of, but something we should take pride in.

We do not need the likes of Jose–with his stubbornly held racial prejudices,  antiquated views of nationalism, and armchair-commando machismo (“emasculated,” anyone?)– to tell us how to be Filipino and what kind of country we deserve.

We deserve National Artists who are far wiser and more knowledgeable than F. Sionil Jose.

 

P.S. For those who want an introduction to the complicated history of Vietnam-China relations beyond Jose’s glib, imprecise summary of a paragraph, I recommend Keith Taylor’s A History of the Vietnamese; Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam; Alexander Woodside’s Vietnam and the Chinese Model; Brantly Womack’s China and Vietnam; and Qiang Zhai’s China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975.

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The Zealotry of Racists Like Vergel Santos

One Vergel Santos has added his (racist) two centavos to the recent controversy generated by Solita Monsod’s racist comments. He commends  Monsod for her “rigor of inquiry” and for being a “highly regarded academic.” Monsod may be all that when it comes to commenting on issues she actually knows something about, but unfortunately, none of these qualities is on display in her two columns on the China/Chinese/Chinese-Filipino issues, about which she appears not to know much.

Not to be outdone by his idol, Santos floats his own lazy generalization with an empty sentence like “Zealotry is a virtue promoted and cultivated by the Chinese autocracy,” which he pins on my critique.

Looks like Santos needs to take a refresher course in freshman English I/Communication I, as he lacks the basic reading comprehension skills to glean from my critiques the obvious fact that I am neither a supporter nor defender of “Chinese autocracy.”

If Santos is insinuating that anyone who is critical of anti-Tsinoy racism must be a pro-China “zealot”, then he is just as guilty as Monsod of conflating China, Chinese, and Chinese Filipinos.

Santos, like Monsod, is sloppy at reading and sloppy at arguing. If anything, his article serves only to underscore his zealotry in defending his own, and Monsod’s, racist views.  Tsk, tsk, tsk, mahina talaga ang kalaban.

As for the China discussion, Santos merely regurgitates what is already well-known and -reported out there, and adds no fresh insight or even new data of his own. Yawn.  There are nuanced analyses out there of the debt issue, for example, but these are written by people who actually do research and know what they’re talking about.

It’s a sad day for Philippine journalism when our so-called columnists pontificate on things they don’t know much about, and think that they are doing people a favor by peddling their racist views as argumentum ad populum and doing no more than regurgitate news reports. Santos is not practising responsible journalism; he’s running a press-clipping agency.

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Solita Monsod is a Racist Enabler

Solita Monsod has seen fit to respond to my critique of her Inquirer article “Why Filipinos Distrust China” with yet another article, which essentially regurgitates her assertions without really addressing the points I raise about her basing her generalizations on her personal experience. Like I said, her circle of “Chinese-Filipino” friends must be quite limited–a fact that makes her personal observation blinkered and limited, as I pointed out–if all she can come up with is a sentence like “Actually, I have often observed, Reader, that a Chinese-Filipino will never ever state unequivocally that he/she is a Filipino first, and a Chinese second (meaning, his loyalty is to the Philippines).” When I say that she has blinkered and limited powers of observation, I am not resorting to ad hominems, I am merely pointing out a fact.

Monsod claims in her article that she is merely reporting the results of surveys showing that Filipinos “trust the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Israel, but on the whole, they don’t trust China.” She goes on to say, in her own defense, “Don’t kill the messenger.”

As far as I’m concerned, Monsod, by uncritically retailing the stereotypes and assumptions of the alien Chinese as people “taking away what is ours” and failing to call out the racism of such a statement, is not just a messenger, but a racist enabler who condones racism and even seeks to justify and rationalize it.

She  then goes on to say: “Chinese-Filipinos comprise less than 2 percent of our population, but they comprise at least 50 percent of our richest listed in Forbes magazine. You don’t think that causes resentment, and even distrust? Perhaps because of their conspicuous consumption? It is Ms Hau that generalizes; she jumps from distrust of the richest Chinese-Filipinos to ALL of them. Excuse me.”

There are historical reasons why Chinese-Filipinos are disproportionately represented in the Philippine economy but Monsod is not interested in discussing them. Reader, I suggest you read Edgar Wickberg, Richard Chu, Teresita Ang-See, Ellen Palanca, Antonio Tan, John Omohundro, and Wong Kwok-Chu, since you’re not likely to learn anything about the Chinese in the Philippines from Monsod. All Monsod has done is to confirm that anti-Chinese racism is alive and well in the Philippines.

Monsod accuses me of generalizing and “jump[ing] from distrust of the richest Filipinos to ALL of them.”  Excuse me, Mareng Winnie, didn’t you just resort to yet another generalization in that last paragraph you wrote, when you try to rationalize the resentment against “Chinese-Filipinos [who] comprise  less than 2 percent of our population, but they comprise at least 50 percent of our richest listed in Forbes magazine” by attributing the resentment to “their conspicuous consumption”? You think that using the word “perhaps” dilutes the racism of your argument that Chinese-Filipinos engage in conspicuous consumption?

By the way, it’s not clear from your sentence whether you are saying that the Chinese-Filipinos who constitute “less than two percent” of the population are the ones who engage in conspicuous consumption, or you are saying that billionaire Chinese-Filipinos engage in conspicuous consumption. Either way, you are still generalizing. Even if you are referring only to the Tsinoy billionaires, are you saying that all these Chinese-Filipino billionaires engage in conspicuous consumption? Are you then implying that the billionaire Filipinos and non-Chinese Filipinos are thoroughly immune to conspicuous consumption? The fact that you don’t see fit to point out the class resentment stoked by the conspicuous consumption of some of our oligarchs and politicians clearly indicates that the Chinese ethnicity of these Chinese-Filipino billionaires (or do you mean the “less than two percent” Chinese-Filipinos?) is an issue for you because their ethnicity makes them aliens who “take away what is ours.”

Reader, who is generalizing now? Tsk, tsk, tsk, mahina ang kalaban.

Your essay says “To be continued.” Bring it on.

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Why I Distrust Solita Monsod’s “Why Filipinos Distrust China”

In her Inquirer article, Solita “Mareng Winnie” Monsod makes the same mistake as F. Sionil Jose of conflating “Chinese people” with “Chinese government,” and worse, conflating “Chinese people” with “Chinese in the Philippines,” which is further subdivided into three categories: Filipinos of Chinese ancestry who self-identify as Chinese Filipinos, Chinese nationals who hold Republic of China passports (note that Taiwan should not be equated with Mainland China; majority of Taiwanese certainly do not think they are the same as the Chinese in the mainland), and Chinese nationals who hold People’s Republic of China passports.

Conflating such diverse groups of people is not only intellectually lazy, but leads to all sorts of unfounded generalizations. Take, for example, her statement that “there seems to be no distinction between the Chinese people and the Chinese government.” She conveniently forgets that China is an authoritarian state with far greater capability than the Marcos government ever had of quelling dissent and exercising state surveillance over its citizens. If you live in a country that ruthlessly and efficiently practises censorship, that ranks its citizens according to a social credit system with its attendant rewards and punishments, that uses cameras and other devices to monitor its citizens’ movements on ground and online and outside the country (to the extent that it can kidnap former citizens who are now citizens of other countries and “extradite” them to China to be detained), and that routinely violates the human rights of its citizens with impunity, you would expect its citizens to be reticent if not circumspect when they speak to outsiders (including the press, which is where presumably Monsod gets her information about China from) about their real thoughts about China.

I have colleagues and friends from Mainland China with whom I have had frank, private conversations over the years, and I can testify, at least based on fieldwork I have conducted over the years in China and talking to Chinese colleagues and informants and reading books on Chinese politics and culture, that it is not true that there is no dissent, or that people are not critical of their government. Chinese people’s distrust of their government is evident in the outcry resulting from the tainted milk and drugs scandals, in the fact that citizens from the countryside have made the long trek to Beijing to lodge complaints against the corruption and injustice of government officials.   Monsod should do more fieldwork, but then what do you expect from newspaper columnists these days who don’t bother to do on-the-ground research, or even read scholarly works (of which there are plenty that argue that the concept of “China” is problematic because it is not necessarily conflated with the mainland state) that give a more nuanced picture of what is happening inside China?

As for her so-called observation that “a Chinese-Filipino will never ever state unequivocally that he/she is a Filipino first, and a Chinese second (meaning, his loyalty is to the Philippines),” well, “never ever” is such a blanket term! Really, never??  I would have offered myself as an example of someone with unequivocal loyalty to Pinas, and also with a brother and two out of two male cousins married to Filipinos who do not identify as Chinese-Filipinos (but maybe Monsod wants to discriminate against Pinoys of Indian ancestry, as well? so that would leave me with one out of two male cousins married to “Filipino women,” plus two out of three female cousins married to non-Chinese Filipinos). But unfortunately, I don’t move in the rarefied circles that Monsod swans around in. Some of us are too busy earning a living, OFW-style, and remitting money home (and by home I mean Pinas, not China).

I’m not saying there are no Chinese-Filipinos who may hold conservative views about marrying non-Chinese Filipinos, but such attitudes have in fact become much more relaxed since the integration of the Chinese into Filipino society and more Tsinoys are marrying Pinoys. There are studies that show that younger generations of Tsinoys are more open to marrying non-Chinese Filipinos, and have done so.  Moreover, if Monsod stops to analyze the reason for such an attitude in the first place, she would find that behind the stereotypical invocation of racial/cultural difference lie the historically fraught issues of “class” and “social status”, the fear of marrying below one’s station. This explains why historically Chinese mestizos tended to marry among themselves or else marry “up” by taking Spaniards or Spanish mestizos as brides or husbands. (The fact that Doña Victorina takes the lame Spaniard Tiburcio as her husband in Rizal’s novels shows that this was a common practice among elite Filipinos.) You think if a Zobel de Ayala or a Villar or Binay asked for the hand of one of these Fil-Chis’ daughters, the Fil-Chis would object to the marriage? (Well, maybe some Fil-Chis would object to their children marrying Villars or Binays, not because they are Filipinos, but because they are trapos.) More, Fil-Chis who are poor or of modest means, as Wickberg argues, tend to “disappear” into the Filipino community, and they have always freely married Pinoys. I know plenty of Tsinoys married to Pinoys, but like I said, I don’t move in the same circles as our so-called Pinoy elites, so I’m in no position to disabuse Monsod of her rather blinkered and limited powers of observation.

As for the statement that “most of our billionaires are Chinese-Filipinos” and that “they are some of the country’s most hated employers,” Monsod should have the guts to come out and name names, so that we have an exact idea of who she is referring to and why their companies’ practices make them such “hated employers” and do something about it. (Did SWS do a survey about Pinas’ “most hated employers”? I’d like to see the statistics.)  This kind of blanket statement, however, raises a number of questions, none of which the article sees fit to address: is Monsod saying that “Filipino”, whether billionaire or non-billionaire, employers are not purveyors of unfair/bad labor practices (the historical record shows otherwise)? What does ethnicity have to do with being a bad employer? Does being Fil-Chi make one a bad employer? Or is it the case that these billionaires and employers’  Fil-Chi ethnicity makes them objects/targets of racist resentment? It is easier to give vent to racist hatred rather than give serious thought to the exploitative nature of capitalism per se and ask why our laws and employment practices allow big companies to get away with unfair labor practices. And, finally, what do unfair labor practices have to do with distrust of China?  I’ve had my wallet snatched, been mugged and pickpocketed, while I was a student and a U.P. Instructor taking jeepneys and buses in Pinas, but I would never use my personal experience and “observations” to make a blanket generalization like “I don’t trust the Philippines” or “Filipinos are thieves.” This doesn’t make any sense.

Monsod ends with this argument: “So does it boil down to: We don’t trust China because we don’t trust Chinese and Chinese-Filipinos? On the face of it, no. So let’s go back to the SWS survey. We don’t trust them because we see that they are taking away what is ours (including what has been ruled to be ours by an international court). Because they treat our fishermen like dirt.”  I understand (and fully sympathize and side with) my fellow Filipinos’ feelings about China’s militancy on the territorial disputes and ill-treatment of our fisherman, but the SWS surveys do not tell us anything about how Filipinos perceive the Chinese in the Philippines, let alone distinguish among the sub-categories of Philippine Chinese, let alone provide any analysis of why such sentiments exist. Is Monsod, then, saying, that Filipino resentment of China is fed by Filipino resentment of Chinese Filipinos “because we see that they are taking away what is ours” (and here, she is not just referring any more to territory, but to something far broader–patrimony, perhaps?). And here is where Monsod’ s own unexamined racism rears its ugly head. If Monsod accepts the fact that Chinese Filipinos are already Filipinos, then their ethnicity should not be an issue at all. “Most of our billionaires are Chinese Filipinos” and “they are some of this country’s most hated employers” only become issues if you think that: 1) Chinese Filipinos don’t have the right to become billionaires or to run big companies; and 2) the fact that they do means they are “taking away what is ours.” That, Reader, is racism plain and simple.

Now Monsod might say in her own defence that she is merely explaining Filipino “distrust”, but I don’t see how retailing the age-old stereotypes and assumptions about the alien Chinese does anything to clarify matters. In fact, it only muddies the issue.  I began reading “Why Filipinos Distrust China” thinking I might learn something from it, and came away with the despairing thought that what the Monsod essay “boils down to” is this: “We don’t trust China because we don’t trust Chinese and Chinese-Filipinos” because, after all this time, and alas, we are still racists.

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2019 EuroSEAS Conference Berlin: Call for Papers

EUROSEAS CONFERENCE 2019 AT THE HUMBOLDT-UNIVERSITÄT ZU BERLIN

The next EuroSEAS conference will be held in Berlin from 10-13 September 2019 and will be hosted by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Keynote speakers
We are pleased to announce that Professor Caroline Hau, professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan and Dr. Khin Zaw Win,  director of the Tampadipa Institute, Yangon, Myanmar, will deliver the keynote speeches at the EuroSEAS conference 2019 in Berlin!

Call for Panels
The European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) will hold its 10th conference from 10 to 13 September 2019 at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. As an international and multi-disciplinary organisation, EuroSEAS invites scholars and PhD students from all academic disciplines with an interest in Southeast Asia to submit panels that explore relevant research topics from an interdisciplinary perspective as well as discuss theoretical and methodological aspects of research generated in the field of Southeast Asian Studies.

Proposals are also invited for a limited number of roundtable discussions about recent developments in Southeast Asia and for a limited number of laboratories that would develop cross-disciplinary collaboration. Proposals for panels, roundtables and laboratories do not need a list of participants yet, just an abstract and a convener will do!

Panels
Panels consist of a convener, 3-4 presenters, and if possible, a discussant. Double sessions of max 6 presentations are allowed. We invite panels on a wide range of topics in the social sciences, humanities, economics and law of Southeast Asia. We prefer panels with a geographical comparative approach and panels that cross disciplinary boundaries. We also invite panels on climate change, literature, performing arts, and archaeology – fields that were underrepresented in previous conferences.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) brief description of panel, max ½ page, (4) single session (1 x 90 min.): 3-4 presenters; double session (2 x 90 min.): 6 presenters, (5) optional: discussant.

Roundtables
Roundtables address current issues and new developments, and consist of a convener and max. 6 participants who prepare brief statements followed by audience discussion.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) explain in ½ page urgency of topic, (4) max 6 presenters.

Laboratories 
Laboratories are closed meetings for young scholars to develop innovative cross-disciplinary plans. Laboratories run for half a day and consist of a convener and max 8 participants. Towards the end of the conference conveners will present the results of these meetings to a larger audience.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) explain in ½ page plans for discussion and collaboration, (4) max 8 participants.

Deadline
Please send your proposals to euroseas@kitlv.nl by 1 December 2018.

Inquiries
For inquiries, please send an email to: euroseas@kitlv.nl.

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Conference fees
Regular fee: 240,00 Euros
Low income fee: 140,00 Euros

Plus EuroSEAS membership fee (to be paid by all participants) 30,00 Euros.

General conditions and terms
Click here to read the general conditions and terms for participants of the EuroSEAS conference…>> (information will follow soon).

Previous conferences
Oxford 2017
Vienna 2015
Lisbon 2013
Gothenburg 2010
Naples 2007
Paris 2004
London 2001
Hamburg 1998
Leiden 1995

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The Feast of All Saints

My essay on All Saints’ Day appears in the Blog section of Anahaw Books’ official website. Thanks to Rajiv Daswani for his help and encouragement. A good Todos los Santos to all!

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Melmoth in Manila

The British writer Sarah Perry is no stranger to the Philippines. In 2004, she received the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for her essay, “A Little Unexpected,” about the time she and her husband spent living in Cubao and traveling to Taal, Bicol, and Banaue.

Perry writes with humor, insight, and affection about eating balut inside Jollibee and getting a taste of the characteristic Filipino frankness about one’s looks and weight (the first full phrase of Tagalog she learns is “Mataba, pero maganda, di ba?” which Perry helpfully translates into English as “Blimey! She’s fat! Nice-looking, though.”).

Perry takes in the sight of well-to-do Filipino matrons in fur coats, plump children in tow, swanning about the air-conditioned lake of Shangri-la Mall while poverty and sickness stalk the slums. She navigates the complexities and subtleties of Filipino politesse, etiquette, and delicadeza, shocking members of her choir when she scolds the Pastor and watching women in their forties giggle and smear cake on each other at a wedding.

Her encounters with people and places force her to revise repeatedly her mental picture and understanding of this country. How does one account for the fact that “the overriding smell of the squatter areas — or at least the one that lingered with us as we took the rickshaw home — was not of rising drains or stale food, but of soap powder?”

“How,” writes Perry, “can I explain, then, that I also found in these places a great deal of stoic happiness and a resolute capacity for enjoyment that now seems to me to be the most defining Filipino characteristic?”

That Manila left a strong impression on Perry is evident as well in her latest novel, Melmoth. Inspired by Charles Maturin’s classic Gothic novel (published in 1820) about the titular wanderer who barters his soul for an extra hundred and fifty years of life and spends his final days on earth searching for people he can tempt into losing their souls, Perry adds her own twist to the story by turning Melmoth into a wraith of a woman who bears witness not only to the cruelty, suffering, and destruction that humans are capable of visiting upon each other, but also the human longing and capacity for redemption.

The protagonist of this novel, thick with jackdaws, is Helen Franklin, a British expat working as a translator in Prague. Through her friendship with a scholar named Karel and his wife Thea, Franklin learns of the existence of Melmotka (also known as  Melmotte), who is doomed to walk the earth on bloody feet and tries to tempt others into joining her in her lonesome travels.

Melmoth appears before a variety of people who are caught in moments of intense personal crisis and political, religious, and ethnic conflict: a Czech schoolboy of German ancestry, whose self-loathing goads him into spurning the friendship of his Jewish neighbors and, worse, denouncing them to the Nazis and causing them to be sent to the concentration camp in Theresienstadt; a young English girl facing prosecution for her Protestant beliefs during the reign of the Tudor queen, “Bloody” Mary; and a bureaucrat of the Ottoman empire whose paperwork rationalizes and sets in motion the genocide of the Armenians.

Melmoth is a figure of damnation and remonstrance. Yet she, too, is witness to multiple acts of courage and self-sacrifice, as when students protest the detention and deportation of Muslim asylum seekers. Even Josef Hoffman, the schoolboy, surprises himself in the act of trying to save the life of another man.

Only late in the novel do we find out why Melmoth is haunting Helen Franklin. For Helen, too, nurses her own guilt at something she had done in Manila, and it was in Manila that Melmoth first appeared before her.

It turns out that Helen had assumed the role of Angel of Mercy and engaged in an act of euthanasia, honoring the request of a Filipina named Rosa, who had been badly injured in an acid attack by a spurned lover, to die. Rosa implores Helen: “Hayaan mo akong mamatay” (Let me die). Through her Filipino boyfriend, Arnel, a trainee at a drugstore, Helen obtains enough Fentanyl to administer the fatal dose, only to see Arnel arrested and jailed for stealing the drug and for Helen’s mercy killing.

The Philippines, with its jarring juxtaposition of beauty and danger, wealth and poverty, neatness and squalor, Catholic ritual and folk belief in spirits and monsters, lends itself to Gothic storytelling. National Artist Nick Joaquin’s short fiction, collected in the aptly titled volume Tropical Gothic (1972), similarly plays on familiar tropes of imprisonment (literal and metaphorical), tyranny, hauntings, and secrets.

Perry’s Manila–the ubiquitous tabo dipper and plastic bucket at bath time; an infected cockroach bite; the liberal if at times awkward sprinkling of “di ba’s” at the tail-end of conversations; the Filipino propensity for turning strangers into kin by calling them “Ate” and “Kuya”– is keenly observed and eloquently evoked without being patronizing, a world and an aeon apart from Dan Brown’s badly written and superficial treatment of Manila as one of the “gates of hell” in his novel, Inferno (2013). Too, Perry refuses to give way to despair, and the novel ends with Arnel showing up in Prague (though how a Filipino with a criminal record is able to obtain a visa to go abroad is a mystery in itself).

Melmoth’s injunction to “Look!” and not turn away from the horrors and sorrows of everyday life is directed not only at its characters, but most important, at the reader. I would like to think that the novel is also Perry’s way of paying homage to the countries she has traveled to and learned to love.

 

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