Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata

During my last trip to the Philippines (with only one night shared here), I went to the bookstore to line up find my next read. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (translation: Amapola in 65 Chapters) was one of two books I bought for myself. I may not be down to zip line, let alone sky dive, but I will (try to) read anything. In the same way I support independent bookstores, I like to venture into Philippine literature and look for local writers I can rave about.

This book was okay. So okay that I was not sure if I should even post about it, but I should really push myself to be more comfortable stating my opinion. So here it is: I wasn’t sold.

I love the way Philippine culture is so entwined with the supernatural and the way this book has manananggals in its fictional society but also portrays them in an almost realistic way: that they are not accepted in society even if some of them are good and do not eat humans. Of course, the book cleans manananggals up to make them less gruesome. There’s even a divide between manananggals that eat humans and the ones that don’t, and the manananggals are described as more human-looking (albeit the long and powerful tongue and the body split in half) in the book.

The other thing that makes Philippine culture so interesting is its subcultures. In this book, the Becky (LGBT) culture is featured because the main character, Amapola, is a gay impersonator/entertainer at a bar. (Here’s a quick Philippine Star blurb from way back to give you a rundown on the subculture.) There’s no denying that Beckys have forged their way into the mainstream and have influenced trends in society. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata is riddled with Becky to the point that I was flabbergasted—I had no idea what they were saying sometimes.

Although the supernatural creatures and the subcultures were amusing to read about, that was about it for the book. The story line was okay, and while I loved reading about Lola Sepa’s love affair with Andres Bonifacio (Andy, per my high school History teacher), I didn’t really like Amapola and the rest of the characters—except Nanay Angie because she has a heart made of gold. I wasn’t a fan of the savior plot, and the Grandiosa vs Montero subplot wasn’t very surprising.

To summarize: cultural depiction great, story line meh.

Ricky Lee is great at creating a picture. This isn’t surprising, as he’s written a lot of films. The tone of the book was incredibly entertaining, and I laughed a lot while reading, but I felt that it lacked a certain art to it. It reminded me very much of the hilarious romantic comedies I would watch during the MMFF, which I have also found to be formulaic money-makers. I know this book is supposed to be satirical, and while I can see it, it doesn’t cause a stir.

I gave this book away right after finishing it. Want to give Philippine literature another shot? Try VJ Campilan’s All My Lonely Islands, which actually made me feel some emotions.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

But I’m not, not really, and that’s fine, too.

Reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was a whirlwind of emotions. To tell the truth, I was ready to stop reading the book sometime in chapter four. I was getting tired of Eleanor’s attitude towards other people and things, and while there were some funny thoughts here and there, it was unsustainable. A whole book of that? No thanks. And then I find out there is more to her sterile personality, ahem, plot twist, and I was hooked. Good thing I decided to read one more chapter; otherwise, I would have missed out on possibly one of my favorite reads in a long time ever.

I loved getting to know Eleanor as she maneuvered through her newly found social life. Somehow I found myself relating to her a little, with her quirks and all. From why-can’t-people-write-properly to I-can’t-believe-I-blew-this-out-of-proportion, I could see a little of myself in her, and I think, you do you, Eleanor! You are so brave. You do not cower behind the fear of social stigma. How to be like you po? (Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is: you don’t want that for yourself. It’s just refreshing to see someone else be different.)

Be warned though: this book is not a light read. It’s a quick read, but it’s definitely not light. I consumed this book in two or three sittings, but I was on an emotional roller coaster in which I almost shed some tears. Gail Honeyman was not afraid to take her readers’ hearts and clench them so tightly that they might feel the pain of a lifelong loneliness and denial. No, Eleanor Oliphant is not fine, and it took her the better part of 30 years to realize this. It’s okay, Eleanor, let it all out.

As for me, well, I’m going to have myself a little cry, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the book.

A Night in Poblacion

Down to my last weekend in the Philippines, I convinced my sister to take me out, even for an early night, as I had to be awake by 6am the following day. With only a few hours to kill, we went to Poblacion.

Continue reading “A Night in Poblacion”

Harry Potter: The Grand Reunion

Finally, after (more than) ten years, I began re-reading Harry Potter, the series that introduced me to magic and that sparked a fire that is my love for reading. It’s been a long time coming, really (not that I never signed up for Pottermore or binge-watched the movies…), and though I had earlier thought of re-reading the series, I didn’t for two reasons:

  1. It would have been a massive undertaking. After all, there are seven books in the series; it would take commitment (time and effort) to read everything; and
  2. I was scared that the act of re-reading would take away the magic and wonder that I had felt the first time around simply because I knew what was coming.

Well, I happened to be stuck at home on Black Friday—not because of the rain that, thank heavens, finally poured down San Francisco and cleared up the bad air, but because of a bout of food poisoning due to bad almond milk I drank at a cafe that morning. Funny, I never thought my precious coffee shops would lead me to my demise. (Also, I did purposely exclude the coffee shop that served the bad almond milk from San Francisco: Coffee & Tea in the West Side. I haven’t completely gotten over it… How does almond milk even go bad?)

Moving on, when I began to feel better, I turned on the tv and found all eight Harry Potter movies available for streaming on Hulu TV. I made it all the way through the end of the fifth movie when I decided to finally re-read Harry Potter. I already had a copy of Book 1 anyway, and didn’t I tell myself that I would re-read the books as I rebuilt my collection? Yeah, it was about time. 

Unfortunately, Book 1 was all I had, and I had gone through it so quickly that I know Book 2 wouldn’t arrive on time if I ordered it online. So, on Sunday, when I was decidedly better, I visited three different bookstores in the hopes of finding Book 2 in the original Scholastic hardcover edition. I didn’t, so I went home and ordered Book 2 online. (I did go back to watch the sixth and seventh movies while waiting for Book 2, but Hulu removed the eighth movie the day I was set to watch it.)

I am deep into re-reading the series right now, and I am so happy I get to revisit this magical world that I grew up with. Re-reading the books, I get to dig deeper in to the details that I may have glossed over (or forgotten) the first time I read the series. I’ve finished Books 1 and 2 now, with Book 3 in tow, and I am excited to once more accompany Harry all the way to the end.

PS If you haven’t already been sorted, shame on you. Go put on the Sorting Hat. I also visited Ollivanders and discovered my Patronus already. I did those ages ago. Hurry.

Refugees

One story a day—or at least  each time I picked up Refugees—and I finally finished the book. I was very pleasantly surprised each time I read a new story. While there was an overarching theme of the Vietnamese immigrant experience, each story was told from a different perspective. (My favorite story was actually told from the point of view of a Hispanic— if I recall correctly—immigrant.)

Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s characters were not perfect; they were realistic. I appreciated that the writer didn’t feel the need to have the audience like the characters. It’s fine; one doesn’t need to love the characters to recognize that the immigrant experience was difficult for everyone.

This book is definitely worth picking up! I have to admit though: the reason I didn’t finish Refugees sooner was that the first story was sad, and I didn’t want to read a collection of sad stories. They’re not all like that! I highly recommended reading Refugees.

Also, if you haven’t read The Sympathizer, that’s a great read, too. The first few chapters are a little hard to get through, but be patient! It was also hard to put down once the story got rolling.