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Banyaga: A Song of War

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"Banyaga's unflinching and unforgettable portrait of three immigrants and their familial, business, romantic, political and social entanglements over eight decades effectively demystifies the lingering myth-understandings surrounding the 'Chinese.' But Ong's main achievement lies in his revelation of the wondrous alchemy that turns foreigner into Filipino and, just as important, Filipino into someone (and something) at once familiar and ineluctably foreign." - Caroline S. Hau, Writer and literary critic

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Charlson Ong

18 books37 followers
Charlson L. Ong , resident fellow of the Institute of Creative Writing and fictionist/scriptwriter/singer extraordinaire, was born on July 6, 1960. He obtained an A.B. in Psychology from the University of the Philippines in 1977, and currently teaches literature and creative writing under UP's Department of English and Comparative Literature. He has joined several writers' workshops here and abroad, and has acquired numerous grants and awards for his fiction, including the Palanca, Free Press, Graphic, Asiaweek, National Book Award, and the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award for Excellence. His novel, Embarrassment of Riches published by UP Press in 2002, won the Centennial Literary Prize. In addition to this, Ong has served as co-editor of the Likhaan Book of Poetry and Fiction
His short stories range from parodies of well-loved Filipino texts to insightful treatments of Chinese-Filipino culture. These have been collected into Men of the East and Other Stories (1990 and 1999), Woman of Am-Kaw and Other Stories (1993) and Conversion and Other Fictions (1996). His second novel is due for publication this year.

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5 stars
87 (45%)
4 stars
53 (27%)
3 stars
20 (10%)
2 stars
14 (7%)
1 star
19 (9%)
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Julia Azarcon.
19 reviews
April 19, 2022
probably one of my favorite books by a local filipino author i’ve ever read so far. it reminded me a lot of pachinko but instead of 1 family it follows 4 boys and is in a filipino-chinese setting. a grand inter generational story that reminds me of how important and integral chinese immigrants are in the way the filipino nation was built. it very vididly displayed the roots of inter generational trauma - a reminder that our grandparents went through so much tragedy during wartime that is unspeakable, so such distance is understandable because we’ve been lucky enough to live in such a different, safer time. makes me want to speak to my grandparents more about that time, but i also understand how difficult it is for them to talk about it - and the least we can do is show compassion.
Profile Image for Maila Quita.
5 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2021
An excerpt, which is written on my daughter's Grade 11 textbook took me to reading the entire book, and eventually tracing my Chinese ancestry. And finally, four years after my mother's death, I have come to terms with her obssession with cleanliness, how easy it was for her to hit us with a rod in the slightest mistake. I thought. it was OCD or something psychological, but no, it has something to do with her upbringing, the rough and tough facade of the culture she has grown up with, one that she was striving so hard to get away from. Thanks for this book, it's truly a gift!
3 reviews
August 1, 2022
As a Filipino-Chinese American reading this as a tourist in the Philippines, this book gave me great insight into a history that is too tired to be said from those that hold it and be able to see how the built environment reflects that written in this book. A fascinating and confusing style to get viewpoints from almost every character throughout multiple generations, with many changing names one, two times. Readers should be prepared to translate for both Hokkien and Tagalog.
1 review
September 3, 2017
i want to read this story
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
October 22, 2020
Veeeeeery confusing. I enjoyed the historical background and atmospheric descriptions, but I could not follow the characters' journeys for the life of me.
Profile Image for collision cereal.
33 reviews2 followers
November 12, 2022
seriously heartwrenching and insane. it is kinda confusing to understand at times but maybe thats just me not being a very poetic guy. brah the pigeon
October 4, 2016
Charlson Ong's Banyaga simply put is an epic.

This is a fictional account of the entire history of the Filipino- Chinese, from their first immigration to the Philippines up to their contemporary struggle. Literally the title "song of war" is an allusion to the epic-like quality of the book, a song of struggles and triumphs of this people in their attempt to settle in the Philippines.

Reading this feels like reading Amy Tan (author of Joy Luck Club). The writing styles are of course different. But the purpose of writing finds great semblance. Just like Tan, one of the leading voices of the American-Chinese, Ong demands for recognition as the leading Filipino- Chinese writer of our time.

The book explores the Filipino-Chinese psyche: mainly a people of endurance and resilience, a people firmly planting its feet on the soil of our homeland, at the same time looking forward, and refusing to bow down to derision and the changing times.

Definitely recommended to the Filipino-Chinese community and all Filipinos interested in the "Tsinoy" experience. If not so interested, a word of warning: the book is a bit lengthy and complex for the average reader.

Profile Image for Random Spider.
41 reviews
March 1, 2023
**Not yet a settled review**

I'm not comfortable rating and reviewing this one. Banyaga: A Song of War is a Filipino-Chinese historical fiction (that is also some kind of a memoir? I'm not sure) set on the early 1900s up to the near end of said century (or I think it was. It's been a while.) The book followed 4 migrant boys who pledge brotherhood with each other.

This has to be the hardest/most challenging book I've ever touched upon. No kidding. It took me almost 3 months to finish it entirely. It's not even the length or the foreign vocabulary that made it arduous. It was the whole time skipping between major sections of the book, each with different events and characters introduced/removed. It felt reading 4 different books from a single novel, interconnected mostly by the 4 brothers. It was impossible to invest upon despite the novel's gritty and rich content.

It was a conflicting decision to place its rating at 6/10. Need fresh rereading for updates and justifications.
Profile Image for Aimee Capinpuyan.
20 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2014
Don't be dissuaded by all the changes in the characters' names. This novel is an excellent work of Filipino historical fiction. It's the first novel I've ever read about the Chinese-Filipino identity.

There's also a lot of Hokien words here that never get translated in the text, so it pays to have some background in Chinese language and culture.
Profile Image for Giselle Banzon.
5 reviews1 follower
August 2, 2012
The name shifts of the characters make it confusing to read, but the story itself is amazing. It depicts another version of Philippine society (and history) that I wasn't exposed to before reading this novel.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

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