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The True and the Plain: A Collection of Personal Essays

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These vintage essays, never before compiled in book form, complete the UP Press' series of Kerima Polotan's works. Ranging from the very personal recollection, "Many Things in a Life," to the astute commentary of "The Happy Hoi Polloi," they live up to the promise of the book's title. Here is life seen steadily, and described clearly and cleanly. Characterized by her trademark wit, irony, and incisiveness, delivered in her flawless style, it deserves to stand beside the award-winning novel, the short story collection, and the two essay collections, as proof of one of the highest points of Philippine literature in English.

97 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Kerima Polotan

7 books11 followers
Kerima Polotan-Tuvera was a Filipino author. She was a renowned and highly respected fictionist, essayist, and journalists, with her works having received among the highest literary distinctions of the Philippines.[1] Some of her stories have been published under the pseudonym Patricia S. Torres.

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5 stars
10 (45%)
4 stars
7 (31%)
3 stars
2 (9%)
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1 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
November 12, 2012
My brother lent me this book yesterday. When he handed this to me, he said: "Read Polotan. Satisfaction guaranteed." So tonight, after covering this with plastic, I began reading. I still have 6 books in my currently-reading folder and I thought I would not want to add another one. However, after reading the first essay, I think my brother is right. Polotan writes beautifully. So, what the heck. I can have 10 books in my currently-reading and it is my own business.

As usual, I type my thoughts right after reading an essay or a chunk of them:

1) Estrella. 5 STARS
I do not have any idea who she is referring to. However, the essay speaks to me. It's about life; specifically life as we look back at it. Similar to Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (4 stars) but what makes this better is that her prose is simply... better. Hers is heart-tugging with sincerity and at the same time her words feel like water caressing you softly while under a silent faucet. Check this one out:
"She rushed at life full tilt, embracing it and all its burdens unreservedly, balancing its terrors and its joys so finely one often could not tell if Ester wept when she was laughing, that singular laugh she had, that chuckle which began in the back of her throat and, if one listened closely enough, sounded half waterfall, and half despairing sigh."
Convinced that my brother is not pulling my leg in saying that this would satisfy me, I immediately went to the 2nd essay.

2) Games. 5 STARS
This essay reminded me of the days when I used to play with my pre-school daughter. The pretend games. Haay, I miss those days when she would come out running from the house whenever she heard the sound of my car backing to the garage. As I parked, I would hear her voice, excitedly calling me "Daddy!" and she would open the door and hugged and kissed me like I was the most important person on earth. Those days! Never to come back again.

3) Child on a Seesaw. 4 STARS
Sad and heartbreaking. The image of the girl in the seesaw hearing the news that her mother has died. Polotan's incisive prose has the ability to leave marks in your mind even after many days have passed since you finally closed the book or read the story.

4) God in the Afternoon. 4 STARS
What I think I am really liking about this book is that when Poloton experienced the stories included herein, she could have been as old or a bit older than I am now. So, these little anecdotes or snippets of her life could be what I, my wife, my siblings or my school friends can be experiencing at this stage of our lives. This particular story is about a classmate of hers who visits her office and after quite a long introduction says that he wants to write for Polotan and talks about God.

5) Early Encounter. 5 STARS
Very funny. Similar to #2 where a middle-aged Polotan describes her children. I liked the innocence of the children captured by the witty and playful prose of Polotan. These stories about her children can give Robert Fulghum and Bill Crosby a run for their money.

6) Court Scene. 3 STARS
I am not a lawyer and I have only seen courtroom trials in the movies. I am told that the real court proceedings are normally as boring as when you are waiting for your train to load up and you have nowhere to go after office but go straight home because you have no money and the next payday is at least a week ahead of you (there is nothing more boring than that, right?). So, I have not consciously gone to a court to witness a trial. Anyway, I liked the the vivid depiction of the people in inside a Philippine courtroom here. I am just not sure whether the scene is still the same nowadays because Polotan wrote this when she was still a practicing lawyer.

7) My Misbegotten Christmases. 5 STARS (if I could give this 6 stars, I would)
I laughed out loud TWICE this morning. Polotan really made me laugh!!! I don't even know her. This is my first time to read a book by her and I don't even know if she is still alive or already dead and I knew nothing about her personal life except the ones I have read, reading and will still read in this book. But, my, oh my, this story is very funny and makes me remember all the past Christmases in my life. Let's not focus on material things this coming Christmas, okay? It. Should. Just. Stop.

8) Al Primo Incontro. 5 STARS
I am quite an orderly person. I mean, when I see something not in proper place, I put that back. I arrange things. I hate seeing book without picture cover in Goodreads. Like Polotan, I love seeing pretty things in the house. However, like the realization she had in the story, I treasure the memories associated to each item in the house even if that something is not good to look at. Oh, memories...

9) Easy Rider. 4 STARS
I have been to Cagayan de Oro so I was able to relate to this story. I really liked how Poloton used that trip as a metaphor not only about her family, her children specifically, but also to a lesser but more important, aspect, to the country. Subtle yet very clever.

10) One Life. 5 STARS
Where do we go after retirement? This essay is painful to read if you know you will struggle financially after backbreakingly working for so many years. Yet there is always hope and we can all prepare for it. Also, like the ex-teacher in the essay, there is nothing that can compare to a decent even simpler or no-brainer job.

11) Many Things in Life. 4 STARS
It's about old friendship. Kerima Polotan's childhood friend comes back to her life when she is already old and gray. They relive the memories and still share the heartaches and still laugh at their old jokes. Poignant reminiscences. I can't help but think of all those people who I called friends at some point in my life. Some of them I lost contact with (that's okay; no hurt feelings). Some of them I had falling out with (that's not okay but what can I do if they don't want to patch up things with me?).

12) Apartment. 4 STARS
My brother was saying over lunch today that this #12 is the best essay for him in this book. That's because he and his family is living in an apartment (of his mother-in-law). Well, I lived in that same door too when my current residence was being built almost a couple of decades ago. I was able to relate to Kerima Polotan's experiences told in this essay but unfortunately, those did not make me laugh. Even if I am not living in an apartment now, we can still hear noises from neighbors.

13) In the Afternoon. 3 STARS
One afternoon while Kerima Polotan is waiting for the doctor to call her inside. Short and sweet. Almost uneventful except that Polotan wants to talk and interview her fellow patients. I still like this essay though because Polotan's prose can make almost all topics interesting even those that are as mundane as this.

14) The Operative Law. 4 STARS
Just how far are you willing to extend help to your neighbor who is in need? This question is answered by Polotan in this essay. The character of the young girl is pitiable but there is always a limit to one's compassion.

15) Vacations I Will Never Get to Go On. 5 STARS
Hah, vacations. We will dream and plan vacations in our minds especially when we are burn out with our daily tasks or big problems in the office or at home. Right? Kerima Polotan does. She is even fond of reading travel guides but she mostly ends up bringing her family to Baguio, a town built by the American on top of the mountain somewhere in the northern part of the Philippines. What I particularly enjoyed in this essay was Polotan's references to James Joyce and his character Molly. One for the books.

16) The Last Patriarch. 5 STARS
Polotan made quite a revelation here. She seems to have loved his uncle more than his father. Well, she spent more years of her life looking at his uncle as father figure when her own father died when she was a teenager. I am lucky that my father died when I was already an adult and he outlived all his siblings so I did not have somebody else for a parent-figure or whatever.

17) The Happy Hoi Polloi. 4 STARS
Hoi Polloi means "the many" or "the masses" and it can mean derogatory in English. In Filipino, this means "masa" o "bakya." I have not been to Central Market but I used to hear about this from my mother-in-law. She used to shop there when her kids, including my wife, were still young and they were trying to make ends meet. I hope there is a similar essay regarding where the masses go now. I have been to Divisoria many years ago to accompany my visiting mom (based in the US) and sister (based in Canada) but not in the recent past. Maybe someday when I retire, I will have more time to go back and once again enjoy shopping there.

18) South Road. 5 STARS
My home province is Quezon and you have to pass by that road to Quezon if you go to Bicol, the home province of Polotan. So, this essay made me reminisce. What I found amazing while reading was the friendship between Polotan and her friend and their travel back to Bicol brought back memories of the past. I recently had that. My sister and I drove to the province together and we talked endlessly for 5 hours. It was fun after so many years of not seeing each other.

19) A Little Night of Music. 3 STARS
From memories in her home province, the milieu jumped to a posh hotel in America where Polotan and friends saw a stage performance starring Jean Simmons. They also talked about Jacqueline Onassis. I was not able to relate but I still enjoyed reading her prose.

20) The Remains of the Day. 4 STARS
What a recap! Here, Polotan seems to give a final last look at her life. I really liked that part when she is trying to teach her young nephew some table manners and even some vocabulary. "Mannerism" says her nephew, means "Habit." Then Polotan says, how about "Aneurysm?" The nephew says "Not habit." Gee. I laughed out loud last night.

Together with our own families, my brother and I had lunch together last Sunday. While enjoying the wonderful buffet at Yaki-Mix, I brought up this book by saying that I was really enjoying this. After telling each other our favorite parts, he said: "Next time, instead of giving your foreigner friends Rizal's Noli Me Tangere, give them this Polotan's book. They will surely enjoy it."

I can't agree enough. Thanks, brother. I sure will. Anyone?
Profile Image for Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly.
755 reviews339 followers
November 1, 2012
It is quite shocking that no one seems to read her now. This is the book's first review and its first rating here at goodreads. I started reading it late yesterday afternoon and wasn't able to stop until I finished it around midnight. Then I immediately checked her profile here and clicked the box to become her fan. I am now her first and only fan here at goodreads. Then I found out that she had died last year, 19 August 2011, at age 85, having been born in Jolo, Sulu, Philippines on 16 December 1925.

The book cover says it is "a collection of personal essays" which is probably the correct description for a collection of short stories based on personal experiences (which this compilation is). I have read many short stories before, both local and foreign, and I say without any reservation that this Filipino author's short stories are comparable with the world's best and it is no bullshit what its blurb says that it (together with her other works) can stand "as proof of one of the highest points of Philippine literature in English."

My personal favorite is the one entitled "Child on a Seesaw" where she wrote about her mother and the search for her grave. Her mother died when she was just a young girl and she had very little memory of her. Its first two short paragraphs caught my eye and gave me the first signal that I am reading someone who can really write:

"I had sprung as a child on a twilight, riding a seesaw in Cabanatuan, and from the dusk around me, a cousin had stepped out, herself also now dead and buried at the other end of the island. 'Your mother is dead,' she said and I rose on the seesaw, and that's how that scene has since been frozen in my mind all these years, forty, if a day.

"Many times, I had wanted to find my mother's grave, or the child on that seesaw in the park, the word orphan brushing past her like bat's wings--she will never find her way home."

Prolific in every way, she wrote a lot of short stories and essays and had TEN children for whom she did all the housework. She wrote about these things here and more: a friend who just died ("Estrella"), playing house with her little daughter ("Games"), meeting an old friend one afternoon ("God in the Afternoon"), her conversation with a young grandchild about love ("Early Encounter"), a court hearing she witnessed ("Court Scene"), Christmas with a have-cooked roasted pig ("My Misbegotten Christmases"), a quite afternoon after doing housework ("Al Primo Incontro"), living in a rented apartment in Mandaluyong ("Apartment"), a trip by land to Bicol ("South Road"), the simple annals of the ordinary Filipinos ("The Happy Hoi Polloi"), and several other exquisitely-written pieces.
Profile Image for Tuklas Pahina (TP).
53 reviews21 followers
November 20, 2012
Nakaka-iyak sa bandang huli,sa kabuuan at nakaka-aliw. Nakaka-antig ng damdamin, emosyon, at may katatawanan ang ilang bahagi ng mga sinulat niya. Makaka-kuha ka ng magagandang "quotes". Maganda ang pagkaka-detalye niya sa mga bagay bagay o sitwasyon, simple at totoong tao. Nabanggit din niya ang pagpunta niya tungkol sa South Road sa Quezon. Para sa akin 5 stars ito. Inirerekomenda ko na magkaroon ng sariling kopya kung ikaw ay mahilig sa pagkokolekta ng ganitong sanaysay.
Profile Image for Juan.
16 reviews14 followers
November 20, 2013
Al Primo Inconto

Most of her passages took me a while to digest. I romanticized and have pondered about. A real work of beauty, creative imagination and a wonderful prose.

I wanna share this stream of consciousness or whatever you call it.
I really liked it.


I like the shape of those words.
I spread them on my tongue, like butter, and turn and taste them. The syllables roll on my tongue, hit the roof of my mouth and slide off: the echoes reverberate in a cavern.

I should teach that blasted bird the words, to widen its repertoire, but there are my night clothes on the floor waiting to be put in the hamper, and the damp towels I must shake and then send out to hang in the sun. I have also a lifelong fetish about bathrooms: I like their floors dry, the washbowls, clean.

--The mid-morning sounds of life in my house are a commingling of whispers and purrs and silences. That is a rag being passed over the floor. Somewhere, a faucet leaks, in steady, maddening drops. A door is kicked open—mentally, I count the number of flies that have come in. Lard sizzles on the stove. Someone’s chopping wood in the yard. The water hose is pulled across the garden—I see a pair of legs—and slithers wetly, like a snake. Is that a baby’s head bobbing among the bushes? Perpetuity—my son’s daughter. The world to her right now is green grass, butterflies to chase, and cascades of bougainvillea flowers.

Trees and birds and animals—and babies. How we surround ourselves with them as we age, thinking for some reason that they slow down time, stave off death, providing reprieve for all our fears, but I think the sharpen our sense of end, instead.

--Someone was telling me the other night about the galaxies; the “big bang” and what transpired the first three minutes thereafter, and I felt diminished. We were having dinner somewhere. I watched him spread his ten fingers before me to stimulate that explosion. I followed the invisible arcs shooting off his fingertips—“Off they spun into space,” he quietly said, amused by my ignorance, “hundreds of trillions of particles,” on one of which I live and fret, with a billion others. The candle on our table sputtered. The violins on the podium sobbed. A richly-gowned woman swept by, leaving a train of scent. What was of the moment then?

But I don’t brood unduly. I know when day begins and night ends. I sleep well, too well, in fact, attributable in part to the finger or two of brandy that I have learned to snitch at night. I rather anticipate my occasional nightmares, where headless men gallop across deserts and the earth opens to suck in the whole houses and entire neighborhoods, brought on by the video tapes I rent from a retired movie star across the street.

The music on the turntable has entered its final reprise—he is not coming, after all, poor Butterfly! No encounter for her, and she will turn to the small cabinet to grope among her tea cups and for her knife, and spread her tatami on the floor, plunge the blade in her belly.

My coffee’s gone, I wonder if I have time for another? The sun is higher now and floods my dark room, heading inexorably for the door where even now a knock impends because the sounds of living have become shrill and imperative. A telephone rings. Someone draws a bath for a child. A car pulls up. A tardy firecracker explodes. The mynah has signed off for the morning.

Profile Image for Jean.
46 reviews2 followers
May 25, 2015
Lovely intimate essays. I chose this book because of KD here, and I thank him for that. It showed me with such tenderness and incite about life in the Philippines. Some history is entwined in her reminiscences too but always with a personal touch. Very nice, I shall have to look for more of her writing!
Profile Image for Mars.
65 reviews
December 31, 2017
What a good collection!!! It’s a shame Kerima Polotan was a Marcos supporter :( Notable essays: South Road, The Last Patriarch, Apartment, The Happy Hoi Polloi, Many Things in a Life
Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews

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