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Rizal +: History meets literature

"The coffee-table book is a beautiful artifact, replete with gorgeous photographs, beguiling art and illustrations, and thought-provoking pieces."

It was glitterati meets literati at the launch of the handsome coffee-table book ‘Rizal +’, an anthology of art and literature starring the national hero.

Jose Rizal is so much a part of the national consciousness that every Filipino raised in this country has an image of the author-physician-activist in his mind. Rizal’s writings, particularly his two novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are required reading in high school, and a mandatory Rizal course in the undergraduate introduces his essays and political writings. 

But it was in the once-compulsory 12 units of Spanish college courses that I read his poetry. ‘Adios, patria adorada, region del sol querida…’ who has not thrilled to the passion in his ‘Mi Ultimo Adios,’ the last declarations of a man doomed to die by the guns of the colonizers?

Thus any work related to him is bound to interest Rizalophiles, as this one is sure to do. Rizal + is edited by prize-winning writer Krip Yuson and published by Water Dragon, Inc., of Alfonso ‘Boy’ Yuchengco Jr., scion of the late taipan Alfonso Yuchengco Sr. who founded the Yuchengco Group of Companies.

The book launch was held on a full moon Friday, Nov. 23, at the Yuchengco Museum. From the moment I walked in I knew this event was going to be one of a kind. For one, the music was provided by Carol Bello and the Kadama Band, their tribal rhythms of electric guitar and violin punctuated by the throb of a steel drum and an upturned plastic jug partly filled with water. 

Bello’s almost-primal wails and the urgent, pulsing music moved at least two people to dance—Yuchengco and Philippines Graphic literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio.

Yuson, seated under a gallery of Rizal-related artworks, busily signed copies of Rizal + for the attendees, comprising businessmen, corporate types, and socialites mingling with artists and writers. The artworks, some of which illustrate the book, are by visual artists Pandy Aviado, the late Edd Aragon, and others. 

Yuson stood front and center to explain the genesis of the book, how it had been eight or nine years since its inception, but the project was shelved along the way. It was revived recently by Boy Yuchengco, who, with Yuson, wanted to honor the memory of two collaborators on the project who have since passed away—Aragon and writer Jose Victor “Bimboy” Peñaranda.

Also on stage were some of the book’s contributors. Artist and writer Solana Perez sent in years ago an essay written when she was 11. Philippines Graphic editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud’s “My Dream of Café de Madrid,” illustrated by his eldest daughter Rei Salud, is an excerpt from a novel in progress. 

Dr Andrew Navarro cast the hero’s natal chart, a piece of interest to astrology buffs; and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren ponders on the preponderance of Rizal monuments in public plazas around the Philippines. 

Also present at the event was historian Jose Victor Z. Torres, who spoke about his essay “A Fake Rizal Poem: Sa Aking Mga Kabata.” Many of us will recall this stanza best: “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika, masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda.” But, says, Torres, “The problem is it was not written by [Rizal],” and explains why.

 The book also carries pieces by Vicente Albano Pacis, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Adrian Cristobal, Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr., Gilda Cordero Fernando, Jose F. Lacaba, Ambeth Ocampo, and other eminent writers and artists. 

Where there are gaps in the historical record, we lean towards imagination and fancy to flesh out the areas of our interest—what could have been, the might have been. Thus there are both fiction and non-fiction works in Rizal +. It is a beautiful artifact, replete with gorgeous photographs, beguiling art and illustrations, and thought-provoking pieces. 

Kudos to Yuchengco for finally bringing this book to life after nearly a decade in hibernation, to its editor Yuson (who also has a piece here), book and cover designer Orland S. Punzalan for the stunning design, and the contributors who thought, mused, and pondered over the enigmatic, mystical, and mythical Jose Rizal. 

Call or visit the Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., Makati City, for a copy of Rizal +.

Dr. Ortuoste, a writer and researcher, has a PhD in Communication. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , Rizal + , Jose Rizal , History , literature
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