Kerima Polotan (KP) was not the first choice. Sionil Jose was. He was the first Filipino writer I ever read and he awakened in me a fierce longing for justice that hasn’t quite been quelled by age. It was no accident that we was also Ilocano, like me and that he was introduced by a boy I took a liking to (but that’s a different story). However, beyond matters of taste and preference, I just had this feeling that these two writerswere completely different.
They were separated ideologically: one was pro-Marcos and the other wasn’t. I, on the other hand, avoided being pro-Marcos. To this day I cannot get myself to have a photo taken with Imelda. Part of me already knows that it’s silly but another stubborn and adamant side won’t give in. History, or rather the books we read that pass off as history, can often cement our prejudices and once they’ve been built and hardened, the edifices erected are much harder to take down. In KP’s case, it took her death to make me curious. Unfortunately, she died within the same time period as another literary great, Edith Tiempo—tiempo nga naman, what awesome timing! Even in death the limelight seemed to have been borrowed from her. But who was she? Google yields nothing. People haven’t read her and they don’t want to. Those who hear of her are turned off by what one online writer calls her version of Imelda’s hagiography.
Polotan must be recovered from the depths of judgment and there is no better place to start than to read her stories.
The title is a little misleading. I bought this collection of stories, Puppy Love and Thirteen Short Stories by F. Sionil José, when I was in the later years of grade school. I wanted to get into Filipino literature and one of the names I had always heard attached to the “genre” was F. Sionil Jose. I thought it would be a sweeping masterpiece filled with little instances of love, devotion, and affection—a good start for a newcomer to Filipino literature. I could never have been more wrong.
I suppose it’s fair to assert that love comes in different forms, and that sometimes love stories are so concentrated on the aspect of the couple and their romance, forgetting how far-reaching their individual stories can be. We forget how light can be refracted by the different facets, in that it becomes something more and something different from what we initially always expect.
Anyway, it’s also not very smart of me to assume that just because the collection took on the title of one single story, that that is what the rest of the other pieces would be about. Of course not, Carina. Why would you think that? But, as I said, I was young and after thumbing through a couple of pages I forgot about this book and hadn’t come back to it until recently.
Some are stories of love, but not the kind probably brought to the mind by the title. In Puppy Love, F. Sionil José writes about loss and scandal, of debauchery, of decay and descent, and the lengths people go to sometimes for love or if not, something at least close to it. A lot of the stories can be dark and morbid, a portrait of the capacity of the human soul for evil. This was first published in 1998 and it’s astonishing to me how scandalized I still am by some of the stories. Maybe I’m still a little bit more reserved for someone who lives during the time that I do, and I think I am distraught because of the sense of realness I experienced reading through them. Can someone actually bring himself to do something like that? It’s often scary and sad, even more so when these stories are spoken as though they had been real events.
Still, there are signs of tenderness and what I can view as real love. A lot of the shorter ones are vague snippets, just glimpses of life in the many islands, nooks and crannies of the Philippines. Through Puppy Love, I did gain a strange sense of getting to know the country in which I live—of the diversity, the squalor, and also of how refreshing rural life can be. There’s no element or theme that ties these stories together (although I noticed that a lot of them have characters that go to “convent school,” for some reason), and I suppose it’s rare that collections have this common thread that binds them together, so it was quite the experience, reading through this book.
Personally, I have had a hard time writing stories that spoke truly of this home, the country I was born into and raised in. It’s strange, but I’m happy that someone like F. Sionil José can do it so well. He paints a clear picture of the “Filipino-ness” I have tried and failed to grasp in my words, and I hope that someday, I too will be able to do that in the same manner of excellence and genuine familiarity and affinity.
Original Cover and Inner Layout: Very no-nonsense, bare-bones. Even the inside is simple and direct—a content over form type of endeavor. There isn’t a flyleaf or an endsheet; it begins at once, with a title page, followed by the table of contents and so on. The stories are also presented in a straightforward manner, with a centered story title, single paragraph breaks, and centered page numbers at the bottom. The last page of the book is the last page of the last story. No frills.
Recovery: Features hand-rendered type, but stuck to something bold and graphic to place emphasis on the text.