Ateneo de Manila University Press (AdMU Press) rocks the holidays with a whole slew of new releases, among them a couple of short story collections and two novels from its Bughaw imprint that are, in many aspects, ground-breaking.
One of them was recently launched, and all were mentioned at the publisher’s “Golden Harvest” event held last December 7, in celebration of AdMU Press’ 50th anniversary. Their books may be purchased online at their website and their Lazada and Shopee stores.
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A rare talent comes our way in the person of Vida Cruz-Borja, who regales us with speculative fiction in her short story collection Song of the Mango and Other New Myths (352 pgs., pb), launched earlier this month.
There are 15 stories in this book, 10 of which have been previously published in foreign SF&F and spec-fic magazines, and one in Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol 9.
Cruz-Borja digs deep into Philippine lower mythology to animate her stories: a diwata, kapre, mangkukulam, and Maria Makiling among them.
In “Song of the Mango,” Saha can’t prevent her beloved brother from falling in love with a girl way out of his reach. He presses his suit, but loses his life. Distraught, Saha appeals to a diwata for her brother’s resurrection. Her wish is granted—or is it?
“Ink: A Love Story” is one of my favorites. It starts interestingly enough: “Two hopeful writers enter a mangkukulam’s little shop in Divisoria at the same time.” This is the usual “magic curio shop” story of a place crammed with dusty jars and herbs and coins, and where the shop owner hands them “the answer to your problems”—a bottle of ink each. The ink grants wishes, of course—but at what cost?
Each story is accompanied by a lavish illustration at the end. Cruz-Borja worked with 11 different artists, and the book is a feast for the eyes. Have I mentioned the gold foil accents on the covers and the vibrant cover art? Gorgeous.
Cruz-Borja’s work has been nominated, longlisted, and recommended for the Hugo Award, the British Science Fiction Award, and the James Tiptree Jr. (now known as the Otherwise) Award. Her writing is lyrical, lush, and layered, and her stories extend the reach of Philippine lore. Her. This book is a treat for the spec-fic fan.
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John Bengan’s 13-story collection Armor (224 pgs., pb) is set firmly in the Philippines we know, where summary executions, strongmen, and death squads abound. Most of the action happens in Davao of the late ‘90s to the present and not-too-distant future.
In “Voice,” Keno, a young gay man, pretends to be his friend, Nikka, to engage in phone sex with Mr_sPace_man, who turns out to be a dangerous man named Jonas. He learns he was tricked and is looking for revenge on Keno—and Nikka. What must Keno do to protect his friend that he put in harm’s way?
My favorite is “Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California.” The greatest Filipino boxerist-cum-senator unburdens himself to a wee winged one, telling it how he dealt with his mother taking up with a dance instructor decades younger than herself. It’s written in dialect, and sounds exactly like MP.
Many of the stories were previously published in magazines and journals. Overall, it’s a strong collection and worthy of a place on any discerning reader’s shelf.
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Glenn Diaz, who won a Palanca, Philippine National Book Award, and Madrigal Gonzalez First Book Award for his novel The Quiet Ones, returns with Yñiga: A Novel, a searing narrative of murder, terror, and resistance.
Yñiga Calinauan returns to her hometown, a quiet fishing village, after her placid life is disrupted by terror in the city. But she has to reckon with a familial legacy that affects her life in terrible ways.
The story is an intimate look into the life of activists, the resisters, and how they are hunted by the powers that be. Words pop from the page, brutally honest in their description of a life of struggle—convoy of military trucks, taken, sedition, documents, body was found, morgue, corpse, forever a corpse. This is the Philippines, one seldom visible to the mainstream, but running as a red undercurrent to political life.
In a conversation with a friend, Yñiga has a line of dialogue that stuck with me: “We all just mouth half-rehearsed, half-spontaneous lines in life, don’t we?” and that’s acting—and literature—as a metaphor for life.
Yñiga was shortlisted for the inaugural Novel Prize in 2020 by Fitzcarraldo Editions, Giramondo, and New Directions.
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In Kites in the Night (120 pgs. Pb), Blaise Campo Gacoscos writes an unflinchingly honest novel about the life of a man whose life brings him face to face with complex moral challenges, and how he deals with them.
Readers follow Victor Molina on his life’s journey, from his childhood in Ilocos to adulthood in Manila. The book is written as a composite novel, meaning each chapter can be read as a short story. Victor deals with crises, incidents of joy, and mundane happenings as best he can, given his limited circumstances.
In “The Rat,” his mother comes to his house prior to entering the hospital to get treatment for a brain tumor. He cooks her favorite sinigang with malaga fish. Unfortunately, she chokes and Victor thumps her back hard until she vomits everything she has eaten. Behind the scenes, he is battling a huge rat he has found in his apartment. He cannot help that his mother is ill, but he can keep trying to kill the rat. That, he can control; the other, he cannot.
In this chapter, we see Victor’s contemplative side; it fastens on the quotidian for his understanding of the immense: “He lay back in bed and contemplated the aluminum slats of the upper deck above him, those that wove together to form small, perfect squares. He reached out for the slats with his forefinger, felt its rough surface and sharp edges. Maybe life came in a box. No return, no exchange. He couldn’t leap out of the box even if he wanted to. He couldn’t rip it apart if everything was a mess. He could only keep trying.”
As do we all—we can only keep trying.
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Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. You may reach the author on Facebook and Twitter: @DrJennyO