"Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe" is tavantgarde experimental work and will stump you if you insist on narrative as dished out by the komiks or the native cinema. But if you dont read it for narration but instead read it as poem, then you will move from line to line with the increasing awareness that you are enjoying each line as a seperate experience.
Alfred Yuson has authored 23 books, including novels, poetry collections, short fiction, essays, and children's stories, apart from having edited various other titles. Yuson was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award (SEA Write) in 1992 in Bangkok, and has been elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippines ‘ most prestigious literary distinction. He has frequently represented the Philippines in Literary conferences, festivals and reading tours in the United States, Japan, China, Finland, Scotland, Thailand, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Columbia, and his works may be found in many international anthologies.
Yuson is a founding member of the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), Creative Writing Foundation, Inc. and Manila Critics Circle, and was Chairman of Writers Union of the Philippines . His bibliography includes the potry collections: Sea Serpent, (Monsoon Press, 1980), Trading in Mermaids (Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1993), Mothers Like Elephants (Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2000) Hairtrigger Loves: 50 Poems on Woman (University of the Philippines Press, 2002), and the translation, Love's A Vice/ Bisyo ang Pag-ibig: Translations into English of 60 Poems by mike L. Birgonia (National Commission for Culture at the Arts, 2004). Yuson currently writes a literature and culture column for The Philippines Star. He also teaches fiction and poetry at Ateneo de Manila University, where he held the Henry Lee Irwin Professorial Chair in Creative Writing. His two novels, The Great Philippine Jungle Café and Voyeurs and Savages are studies of Philippine culture. Another novel, The Music Child, was among five works short listed for the second (2008) Man Asian Literary Prize.
Alliteration's Allure Adds Attraction to Amusing Account
Leon Kilat's trajectory from small town Negros in the central Philippines to revolutionary hero and superman is spiced with many an adventure. He winds up dead but in the future at the great Philippine jungle energy cafe. You might imagine Leon enjoying many a great Filipino dish, wielding his pearl to great effect on a selection of luscious local ladies, or fighting the oppressive Spaniards in the war that led up to America's invasion of 1898. He could be meeting Woody Allen, Vasco da Gama, Khachaturian, or even Fidel Castro, but he probably won't be. His story does involve some history, anthropology, a circus full of patriots, a dwarf with a pet python, and a lot of poetic, if weird language. Filipino humor, magical realism, and a host of cultural references abound. You definitely can't see what is coming next. The perennial question arises of Filipino culture's connection to or separation from American or Spanish influence. Having fought against Spain, then America, then the Japanese invasion, and then among themselves, did they really deserve Marcos? Leon's modern comrade or alter-ego is Robert Aguinaldo. (Same last name as a national hero of Independence wars.) He takes part in the latest attempt to get freedom, which seems to lurk just beyond reach. Filipino energy is definitely there, hanging out in that group of beautiful islands that must be the ultimate jungle cafe. But whoa! Is it McDonalds' on the menu? How come, dude?
Leon knows his future, but doesn't try to alter it. He's doomed to appear again in that great jungle cafe in the sky. He spends a lot of time being dazed though a boondocks guerrilla-cum-spiritual guru has given him special powers. The reader may feel the same upon finishing this highly-original but somewhat unfinished novel. Garcia-Marquez and Milorad Pavic come to mind. (If you ever heard of them.) I liked it a lot, but could be forced to admit that it might not be for everyone.
postmodern refusal to commit oneselves in Tanya and Tuadla's exchange ending this way: "let's disappear like Robert Aguinaldo."
Regionalism was imputed upon Leon Kilat and the liberation movement he led: "...shouting at the top of thier voices for every Filipino, er, Cebuano, to join in, only the venerable Fort San Pedro lay between the Filipino, er, Cebuano and final liberation." Parallelism was drawn between the 1896 Revolution and the 1986 People Power with the implication: despite both being enormously celebrated for the conditions they shoved out of the way (Spanish colonization, Marcos dictatorship), the history that befell them subsequently greatly marred whatever gains obtained: the 1896 revolution petered out in the face of the forthcoming Americans; the 1986 revolt was seized by a goody-goody and deceptive 'democracy.'
the finger was implicitly pointed at Leon Kilat and "the movement" (whether this is just the movement from cebu or a broader one) for "being dazed and all," for being enraptured with the charms of Pilar; a move whose justice is open to dispute.
why do make then of leon kilat's resurrecting and then finding himself in the great philippine jungle energy cafe: after the defeat and the humiliation comes the reemergence, syempre a la jesus christ, yun nga lang, what is there to witness, what has been actualized is not (a socialist) salvation (or a salvation brought about by genuine liberation) but a merry kind of merry-go-round depicting the balmy kind of freedom obtained after the dictatorship, a scenario where vilma santos and nora aunor and nick joaquin and f sionil jose and billy ray bates (and almost john and yoko too!) can all peacefully coexist. in short: the ostentatious smell of postmodern liberal freedom where the freedom of ideas (to vie for position in the marketplace of ideas) and people (to consume freely in the 'open' market) are best premiumed. word-wise, this was delicious in most part. world-wise, uh shit.
My copy, mislabeled as a third edition, although I am quite certain the publisher meant third print-run, is a poorly scanned version with letters bending at the inner margin, an indication that the publisher did not even bother to unstitch the original copy from its spine before printing. As for the content, let me put it this way: Leon Kilat, a Bisaya hero, is a caricature who frequently screams, "Arraguuuuuy!" Really?
Yuson crafts a fictive narrative regarding the life of Leon Kilat, the historical revolutionary leader of Cebu as he travels from Negros to Manila and Cebu. Vital to Yuson’s narrative is his use magical realism, which brings the narrative beyond historical fiction to an odd realm dominated by banana charms, pants with mountains, and magical handkerchiefs. While the native is interesting and entertaining, there are many times when the devices of the narrative obstruct it’s ability to tell a story. Yuson’s narrative is compelling, albeit confusing.
caught up in its own sense of cleverness (and using the word cleverness generously) that ultimately doesn't say anything; very insider-y of writer workshop and manila artsy society so if you don't know these references, then you're lost or you won't care--the latter most likely; there's skill here, but to what end was it used? in one of the intro james joyce is evoked, oh please!