Long considered the dean of modern Philippine literature, N. V. M. Gonzalez has influenced an entire generation of young Philippine writers and has also acquired a devoted international readership. His books, however, are not widely available in this country. The Bread of Salt and Other Stories provides a retrospective selection of sixteen of his short stories (all originally written in English), arranged in order of their writing, from the early 1950s to the present day.
N. V. M. Gonzalez (Nestor Vicenti Madali Gonzalez) b. Romblon, Romblon 8 Sept 1915. Fictionist, poet, essayist. He was the son of Vicente Gonzalez, a school supervisor, and Pastora Madali, a teacher. He was married to Narita Manuel with whom he had four children. When he was four, his family migrated to Mindoro and settled in barrio of Wasig. Gonzalez had his early schooling in Romblon and later attended Mindoro High School. In 1930 he took the entrance examination to the University of the Philippines but failed. He went back to Mindoro and worked as a delivery boy in his father's slaughterhouse and meat stall in Calapan. During this time, he began contributing to the Graphic. For about a year, he would walk from Wasig to Mansalay for five hours to type his story at the municipal hall and post it to the magazine.
Gonzalez had his first literary break when he won in the students' literary contest sponsored by the Graphic for an essay in Theodore Roosevelt's visit to Calapan in 1934. He left for Manila, met Francisco Arcellana, and joined the Veronicans. He studied for two years at the National University and Manila Law College, but quit his college studies sometime in 1934. He joined the Graphic, working there until the outbreak of WWII. After the war and without a college degree, he was invited by the University of the Philippines (UP), to teach English and the short story from 1951 to 1967. He became the chairperson of the Second UP Writers Summer Workshop in Los Baños in 1967 and was twice chosen as the Workshop's writer-in-residence in 1978 and 1987. He received several Rockefeller grants which enabled him to take special studies in creative writing at Stanford University, the Kenyon School of English, and Columbia University, and to travel in Asia and Europe. In 1968, he went to the University of California in Santa Barbara as a visiting associate professor of English, and stayed there until 1983 as a professor of English and Asian American literature at the University of Washington from 1976 to 1979, and in 1986, artist-in-residence of the Djarassi Foundation in Woodside, California.
Gonzalez's published novels are the Winds of April , 1940; A Season of Grace , 1956; and The Bamboo Dancers , 1959; his published short story collections are Seven Hills Away , 1947; Children of the Ash Covered Loam and Other Stories , 1954; Look Stranger, On This Island Now , 1963; Selected Stories , 1964; and Mindoro and Beyond: Twenty-one Stories , 1979. His most recent published works are Kalutang: A Filipino in the World an autobiographical essay, 1990, and The Father and the Maid , a compilation of six lectures delivered under the sponsorship of the UP Creative Writing Center, 1990, He finished his final draft of a short novel called Kaingin Country and was working on a sheaf of poems, A Wander Through the Night of the World . Also in preparation is the Mother the Provider , a collection of stories.
Gonzalez received a special award in the 1940 Commonwealth Literary Contest for The Winds of April , the Philippine Republic Award of Merit for Literature in English in 1954, the Republic Cultural Heritage in 1960, the Jose Rizal Pro Patria Award in 1961, and the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan ward in 1971 from the city government of Manila. Eight of his short stories were included in Jose Garcia Villa's honor roll in 1926 to 1940. His short stories, “On the Ferry” 1959 and “Serenade” in 1964, won third prize and first prize, respectively, in the Philippines Free Press literary contest. His short stories, which won in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, are: “Children of the Ash Covered Loam,” second prize in 1952; “Lupo and the River,” second prize in 1953; “On the Ferry,” third prize, 1959; and “Tomato Game,” first prize in 1972. In 1993, he received the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining in literature. He was conferred National Artist status in 1997. He passed away in 1999 due to kidney complica
A collection of 19 short stories from the Filipino author N.V.M. González, who died in 1999 at the age of 84. The stories were written between 1950 and 1990, all in English. The individual stories are generally 10-12 pages long and they appear chronologically in the order in which they were written, (though not necessarily when they are set). I don’t have the space to talk about them all so I’ll pick out a few that I thought were memorable.
These are stories of ordinary Filipino people. Many are set on the island of Mindoro, which is the author’s home, with some of the later ones set in the USA. Again this possibly reflects the author’s own life. In the earliest stories the characters tend to be barefoot peasants or dirt poor fisherman. As the stories progress there is a noticeable shift towards the characters being students or working in office jobs - perhaps reflecting changes in the country itself?
The class divisions of the country feature quite prominently, especially in the earlier stories or those set in earlier times. The title story is a coming-of-age tale in which the protagonist has a crush on a girl who is his social superior. Another story, A Shelter of Bamboo and Sand, is set in 1941 in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. The main character has a girlfriend, Stella, who is a college student; “She made her own dresses…taking care not to look stylish or fashionable, to avoid being thought of as competing with college girls from more affluent families.”
Another important theme is the relationship between Filipinos and Americans, who were of course their colonial rulers for almost 50 years, and who continued to exercise considerable influence in the country even after independence. In the 1963 story, The Popcorn Man, the lead character, Prof. Leynes, works as a teacher at a US military base, teaching the children of American service personnel. A former schoolmate has made a name for himself writing about the discrimination suffered by Filipinos in such environments, treated as second class citizens in their own country. Leynes though, has settled for a salary, meals in the canteen at the base, and petty pilfering of items such as bars of soap. I thought this was one of the strongest stories. I also liked The Blue Skull and the Dark Palms, from 1950. A young woman takes up a post as sole teacher at a rural school, and has to deal with the legacy of the Japanese occupation, as well as with an assessment of her teaching abilities. I also enjoyed the tension in the story The Wireless Tower.
I have been known, in other reviews, to complain about what I see as a tendency of modern authors to be too obvious in the messages they convey, as if they don’t trust their readers to understand subtlety. I can’t accuse González of this! If anything he swings the pendulum the other way. In the opening story, The Warm Hand, a group of passengers travelling between islands on a small schooner are forced by bad weather to put into a remote location and seek shelter in a fisherman’s hut. Initially I was fully invested in the story, but the ending left me thinking “Huh?”. Another story, On the Ferry, again featuring an inter-island journey, also left me feeling a bit puzzled.
A mixed bag, as is always the case with a short story collection. Well-written tales though, and overall a worthwhile reading experience.
Reading this book was like going through different snippets of Filipino life. The themes and ideas explored in these short short stories are just as very bit relevant today as they were when Gonalez wrote them originally.
I was only able to read "The Bread of Salt". It was well-written and I found the protagonist interesting. The emotions described were very strong and the readers would really feel the love of the narrator. I sympathized with him (not only because we are both violinists), because I recognized some of the feelings he described. Also, like me, he also possessed a very wild imagination - especially the way he dreams about Aida and such. I could see myself mirrored in the main character, both in his awkwardness and uncertainty. This was slightly reminiscent of James Joyce's Araby in my opinion. Perhaps it's just me being not enough genius in comprehending literature, but the story was confusing in some instances, and that made this not really striking too; so I'm only giving it three-stars.
Pan de Sal, bread of salt, is one of the very basic comfort foods of the Philippines. There is bakery less than a block from where we live that makes some of the best. They normally come into the house in a brown paper bag and everybody knows if you want one you should not wait. They are soft, have an ever so slightly nutty flavor and are great with a hot cup of coffee and sometimes it is OK to dunk them. Everybody loves Pan de Sal. They give you a feeling of home and your grandmother's kitchen. If someone is sick, they will for sure love one of these delicious rolls and our story, "Bread of Salt" begins when our young central figure is sent out by his grandmother, who just had three molars removed, to buy a bag of Pan de Sal. This was back in the days before there were fancy chains bakeries and deluxe supermarkets and you bought your Pan de Sal right out of the oven and you did not mind the stains on the paper bag. Almost every day he would go and watch the bakers do their work and would leave happy, knowing he would have his share. The central character develops a crush on the niece of the owner of the plantation that his grandfather has managed for many years. I really liked it when he makes reference to his English class reading the work of Robert Louis Stevenson. He also played the violin and was soon invited to join a local band which he saw as a welcome opportunity to earn some money. He begins to imagine himself as a world famous musician just returned from a triumphant tour of America. He begins to make some money but his aunt discourages him, telling him at parties the musicians always eat last. In the meantime he is more and more tormented by his teenage love for Aida (the name is not chosen by accident) and he fears she will be leaving soon to go back to her parents house then he is so happy to learn she is not leaving. His band will be playing at a big party at Aida's house. She still has no idea of the crush he has on her. He is nearly crushed at the end of the party when she comes up to him and tells him that as soon as the V I P guests leave she will bring him a bag full of food. He quickly gets the point that he is just part of the help. After eating the very good and copious food he stopped by and bought a bag of pan de sal to take home to his family. "Pan de Sal" is a very well done story that shows how we long for simple comforts in times of pain or when our hopes are dashed. It is about the class structure and the nature of families in the Philippines in the 1950s.
"The Bread of Salt" has always stayed with me since reading it in college. It remains to this day one of my favorite short stories. From this collection I also loved "Where's My Baby Now?" and "The Popcorn Man."
N.V.M. Gonzalez ranks as one of the two classic writers of Philippine Literature in English, alongside Nick Joaquin. Gonzalez wrote three novels, but his enduring reputation comes from his short stories, and among these "The Bread of Salt" stands out as the very best of the best. I would rank it among the best short stories in English of the 20th Century. It compares favorably with James Joyce's "Dubliners" sories. Many of Gonzalez's stories, particularly the early ones, focus on the poorest peasant Filipinos and are written in a style that reflects their dignified simplicity. While this focus is appealing, it is also somewhat limiting, at least as Gonzalez manages it. "The Bread of Salt" is an early story (1954), but Gonzalez's protagonist, a young village boy coming of age, is more complex and more fully realized than the peasant characters of the other stories. Also the story's effective imagery is more universal. The editors-or perhaps it was Gonzalez himself-chose wisely in selecting "The Bread of Salt" as the title story of this volume.
(Only read Bread of Salt due to Lit11, but adding this book for the sake of consistency, I have yet to find a copy of this book, but still) The coming-of-age theme in the story was evident, no real conflict though (it had a passive kind of conflict actually), characters had little development in their positive aspects, but it was so-so.