Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag

Edgardo M. Reyes’ ‘Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag’ should never have been made required reading. Books made victim of the slippery ground of distracted young minds is to waste praise for one of the greatest Filipino books in our history—its biting social commentary is shunned by the distance between a classroom education and the heart of an untenable Manila.

These days, people think of Lino Brocka’s film before they would Reyes’ book, which has fallen under the ‘film adaptation’ category, and therefore, under a category of either-or: ‘the book or the movie?’ I choose the book.

In the book, we follow a ‘promdi’ waif named Julio whose prior motivation, his search for his fiancé Ligaya, becomes a mere subplot as defeating his urban-derived misfortunes become a central focus. Tolerating nights of sleeping at the construction site and witnessing the tragic fates of the people he encounters (Benny, whistling innocently as the tip of a soil pipe splits open his face) hardens him irreparably to the point of violence, such that finding Ligaya becomes not only about finding his fiancée, but what the word really means: happiness.

Upward social mobility is an overarching theme that is at the same time largely absent; while at the construction site, Julio and the other construction workers continued to build higher, doing the same for their lives was not possible. Only one of the workers, Imo, was able to find a way out through education—in turn, doing nothing but rub salt into the wounds of an alternate life path too late and too unlikely. “Ang katotohana’y nguminigit sa liwanag, ngumingisi sa karimlan.”

Reyes carries the characters on his back, and though the road is clear to him, it is a road to nowhere but tragedy and whorehouses. “Sa isang panahon ng kanyang buhay ay sasapit sa kanya ang ganitong paglilimi: Ligaya? Ito baga’y ano? At mapagkukuro niya: A! ito’y wala liban sa aking pangalan.” The lack of adventure and celebrity may make the characters run a flat line, but it is precisely this lack that reminds us that the conveniences of the more well-off too easily involve an allowance for happiness.

Reyes’ writing is clear against the rubble of his setting; using only a few words his imagery lands precisely and without the injection of cliché. This perhaps is best seen in the poetic ramblings that precede every chapter. As in the excerpts above, these figurative summaries at first seem too obscure to match the traditional prose of the chapters, but by the chapter’s end, demonstrate how much his clarity thrives even within abstraction.

Preferring the book to the movie is a matter of choice. But required reading, for a great book like this, is an insult.

6 Responses to “Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag”
  1. Jacob says:

    Good Evening may i know the Printing information of this book? I’m currently working on the bibliographic research history of Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. Info such as Publisher, Cover artist, year and number of pages are very much appreciated :) Thank you!

    • admin says:

      Hello, I don’t have the information with me, but let me ask the reviewer and I’ll get back to you. You can probably check out the libraries as well.

  2. Andy says:

    Hi, I’ve only seen this book published with an orange cover ever since. This is a new one. Who published this and when did it come out? Thanks.

    • Carina says:

      Hi Andy! This cover is just an imagined design. Our project is concerned with making new covers for reviews of Filipino literature. :)

  3. Menie says:

    We were required to watch the movie when it came out in the ’70s, for our high school class. It has haunted me since. Two years ago, my daughter brought an old copy home from her college library as it was required reading. I read the book and loved it. A pity we did not have to read it when we were in college. I’ve been trying to get myself a copy but could not find one. I bought an anthology of his short stories since I couldn’t find his novel. Do you know where I can get a copy?

    Edgardo Reyes uses the Tagalog language so effectively. I also noted that phrase about ngumingiti and ngimingisi.
    Here’s one sentence I had written down as I read my daughter’s library book:

    Laging luksa ang estero. Hindi siya nahihilamusan maging ng tubig na saboy ng langit, at sa halip, ito’y naghahakot sa kanyang sinapupunan ng laswang nahilamos sa mukha ng salaulang lunsod.

    I found out when I got to read the book that the movie was pretty much faithful to the book (one glaring exception is the male stripper scene). Both are equally haunting. The musIc of the movie still lingers in my mind after so many years, as does the last scene where Julio looks like a desperate caged animal. But Edgardo M. Reyes’ words are more powerful, if only as you said, his novel is appreciated for the great work it is and if only we had an audience that appreciates his artistry in the use of our national language.

    • Carina says:

      Hi Menie, I looked for it in the National Book Store web site (I figured they would be the likeliest to carry it), but didn’t find it. You can check these online sellers, though: & eBay.

      Thank you for your comment; it’s much appreciated.

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    Reviewed by Mara Coson
    Recovery by Carina Santos

    This recovery of Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag features light leaks, handwritten type, textured paper (to signify grit) and overlays of Manila's metropolis. For this particular project, the design was printed out into a mock book jacket.

    Original theatrical poster of Lino Brocka's 1975 Filipino classic.