My Iligan

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Friday, January 9, 2009

state of war


The main thread of this story is squarely political, yet, tucked inside is a novel within a novel, a dreamy, allegorical history of the Philippines in which the ancestors of the three central characters Eliza Hansen, Adrian Banyaga and Anna Villaverde figure prominently. The trio of young people travel to the island of K to take part in an orgiastic festival. Each shows a different face of Manila: Adrian is the son of a leading family; Anna, a dissident scarred by recent torture; Eliza sells her favors to whichever political figure is in power. They are pursued by fanatical Colonel Amor (Anna's interrogator and Eliza's lover) who is intent on discovering the secret of Adrian's power connections. Meanwhile, Anna has met up with a terrorist group planning to bomb the festival; and Eliza is hoping to act as matchmaker between Anna and Adrian. The interlocking episodes culminate in a terrifying finale. One wishes Rosca had used less allegory and more realistic detail; often the unique situation in the Philippines is lost in her somewhat mannered style. Still, there is an erratic, Kafkaesque brilliance, an intensity that makes this first novel a powerful piece of literature.

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