International firm Tuttle Publishing is well known to bookworms as having an extensive catalog of Asian works, particularly Japanese classics and volumes on culture, cuisine, travel, and religion. It’s the go-to imprint for works by Mishima, Natsume, and Musashi, among others. They are expanding their offerings with fiction from Filipino authors, among them some of the best fantasy writers.
This weekend, we feature books by pre-eminent speculative fiction writer Eliza Victoria and an anthology of short stories about Philippine mythology reimagined.
Wounded Little Gods and Dwellers
Eliza Victoria has won some of the country’s top literary awards, including the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature. Not only does she write novels and short stories in English, she also writes plays in Filipino.
Victoria’s Wounded Little Gods is a novel of dualities – mission and omission, agency and impotence, light and shadow. In the town of Heridos (‘herido’ is Spanish for ‘wounded’), strange things are happening. Regina, born and raised there, left many years ago to make a life in the city.
But when a colleague vanishes, leaving clues on a piece of paper in Regina’s bag, she returns to her hometown to discover what’s going on. While on her quest to find her friend, she discovers a mysterious scientific facility that appears/disappears from memory. That is not the only secret that events unravel; ultimately, she realizes that minor gods walk among mortals as their fates intertwine.
In Dwellers, Victoria shows her mastery over the spec-fic genre in this novel of entities who jump from body to body to experience different lives. The Philippine release version won the National Book Award,
‘Dwellers’ have three inviolable rules. Rule No. 1: You don’t kill the body you inhabit. Rule No. 2: You should never again mention your previous name. Rule No. 3: You don’t ever talk about your previous life. EVER. But when a Dweller jumps into accounting professor Jonah’s body after a horrendous car accident and finds a girl’s corpse in a chest freezer in the basement of his new house, he feels the strong urge to break the first rule.
However, he and his brother ‘Louis,’ also a Dweller, decide to solve the mystery. What they learn will lead to their making an irrevocable decision that turns their fates around.
Victoria seamlessly blends her fluency in English with a Filipino sensibility. Hers is not a Filipino English (a term some other Filipino writers in English have used to excuse their lack of mastery over the language) but a cosmopolitan way of expression that provides depth of vocabulary and nuance of meaning. Many passages verge on the lyrical while remaining straightforward storytelling, but at the same time evoking terror and other high emotions.
In one of the most memorable paragraphs from Wounded Little Gods, the character Florina, who has murdered a god, says: “Eventually I left through the kitchen door, to the earth where they buried him, and found the flowers buried there. I ate every single bloom, driven by something more than memory, and details of my deed returned to me, one by one, and they resided within me still. They thought I have forgotten but I have not.
“All these years, I have remembered. Every single day I sat here in this house alone and did nothing but remember.”
It’s pretty simple language, but it is an unforgettable depiction of raw, obsessive guilt.
In Dwellers, Victoria shares this insight about pain that expresses exactly how many people feel: “The sad thing about pain is that you can’t share it or pass it on, no matter how willing the next person is. No one can take agony away from you, no matter how many times the people you love tell you, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ You know they really don’t. You suffer alone, in the end.”
A prolific writer, Victoria has authored six books and has had her fiction and poetry published in prestigious international publications such as The Best Asian Speculative Fiction, The Apex Book of World SF Volume F, Future SF, and others. She has also written a graphic novel in collaboration with Mervin Malonzo. Entitled After Lambana, it is also published by Tuttle.
Alternative Alamat: An Anthology
This book contains a dozen stories that reimagine Philippine myths and legends, and two of those stories – Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling Street and Remembrance were written by Eliza Victoria.
In the first, Victoria explores the oft-reworked trope of the mysterious curio shop that sells magical items. Eric takes a job as an assistant at the shop, working for Ana (the goddess formerly known as Anagolay, who has dominion over lost things). But the shop’s survival is threatened when the landlady Marie (formerly known as Maria Makiling) raises the rent on Ana’s shop. Ana’s decision stuns Eric – but then there is always a price to pay for everything.
The other stories are equally interesting, some charming, some melancholy, all unforgettable. Among the other writers in this volume are Budjette Tan of Trese fame, Manila Critics Circle president Dean Francis Alfar, and physician Celestine Trinidad, whose tale about Maria Sinukuan, who guards Mount Arayat, is a detective story.
Space limitations prevent me from writing more, but this is a book I recommend highly for lovers of stories about myth and magic.
From Tuttle Publishing:
Wounded Little Gods by Eliza Victoria
2022, 160 pgs, hb
Dwellers by Eliza Victoria
2022, 160 pgs, hb
Alternative Alamat: An Anthology
Edited by Paolo Chikiamco
2022, 224, pgs, hb
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