Set in the exotic background of the little mining village of Nibucal in the southern Philippines, A Blade of Fern sketches a panoramic vista of rural life and problems of survival among miners prospecting for gold.
The novel is in the tradition of the Romantic hero who runs away from a society he rejects to seek regeneration in a deeply natural environment.
A Blade of Fern should be of interest to students of Philippine literature in English and the general reader.
Edith L. Tiempo, poet, fiction writer, teacher and literary critic is one of the finest Filipino Writers in English whose works are characterized by a remarkable fusion of style and substance, of craftsmanship and insight. Her poems are intricate verbal transfigurations of significant experiences as revealed, in two of her much anthologized pieces, "Lament for the Littlest Fellow" and "Bonsai." As fictionist, Tiempo is as morally profound. Her language has been marked as "descriptive but unburdened by scrupulous detailing." She is an influential tradition in Philippine literature in English.
Together with her late husband, writer and critic Edilberto K. Tiempo, they founded (in 1962) and directed the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, which has produced some of the Philippines' best writers.
She was conferred the National Artist Award for Literature in 1999.
This novel is not all about gold mining or business venture, this is not about romance or sense of belonging, but this novel tells about and characterizes the Philippines, its people and its social problems that up to now are still unsettled and unresolved. This is so relevant on our present situation and that made this novel a classic.
It's my first time to read a novel by Edith Tiempo so I'm really unfamiliar with her writing style. I tried my best not to compare her with her romantic husband. Edilberto uses words to relive his narration while Edith uses words to describe an experience. If there's any difference with that, I'm not sure. What I know is that the couple's descriptive narration is royal!
At first I can't figure out where this book will lead. It says on the title that it's a novel about the Philippines. I was expecting that it's another novel that discusses rural versus urban life (like Urbana at Feliza)—maybe another novel that's banking on a stereotypical story of simple living and traditional Filipino lifestyle.
Yes, it talks about a simple Filipino community with all the simple characters in it: a man who escaped from Manila and found himself in a rural mining community; a small family who lives in taking risks (that's how mining works); a group of miners digging day in and day out just so they can support their families; an old couple who knows all about the community; some politicians, fishermen and odd personalities. To write a novel about the Philippines, you need to have a small community with various characters in it—that's common even in real life.
To appreciate the novel, you need to digest it.
If Bernardo is the Philippines, who is he? A guy stuck in his freedom. He thought he have already escaped from a life he's avoiding yet he's still coming back to it. Or to her.
If Angela is the Philippines, who is she? A young girl with full of hopes... and fear. A girl troubled with the past. A girl living a life of forgetting. That she can't control.
read this for school but ended up enjoying it! really like her writing. am pasting some parts from my assignment here for my review. it was supposed to be a critical essay but my prof said i wrote it too much like a book review lol.
The story is set in a small southern mining village called Nibucal. Moises, “a big man, heavy-footed but with oddly agile hands that did not seem to belong at the ends of his solid arm” (7), is set on his plans to find gold. He is the idealistic but dedicated boss of a small group of miners in his village, which consisted of a few of his friends and in-laws. One of them was Bernardo, his cousin-in-law and the main character of the novel. He was tall, but his face was short and “gave the uncomfortable appearance of a Chinese orange, shrivelled on the surface” (8). The two of them were the main men in the mining project: planning, strategizing and negotiating together to hit gold. But what was really spotlighted in the novel was not necessarily their mining project, nor the two characters themselves, but Moises’s sister, Angela. She is young, perhaps around fifteen years old, who initially appears from time to time to talk with Bernado but leaves a lasting impression in the end. Tiempo weaves their stories together, along with the stories of other characters derived from real Filipinos—a firm housewife, a drunk fisherman, a lonely old couple, a gossipy palengkera, a boy miner and many more. She paints a vivid image of the day-to-day rural mining life, enriched even more by her poetic writing skills.
But in reality, not a lot of things happen in the story. The plot itself is simple, as simple as the provincial life it depicts. Instead, what fills up this book is not so much the events but its breathtaking descriptions of nature and the countryside. She masterfully constructs an almost sleepy atmosphere throughout the novel; the same ambience during a breezy afternoon.
The effect is this laidback calmness, one that is as uneventful as it is relaxing. But then, the question remains. While all of these definitely show a part of the Filipino experience, is it enough to call it a novel about the Philippines? If I was a foreigner and had read this novel, I would only come to learn a very little about the country as a whole.
Before anything, it is important to note the inherent romanticism found in this work. Edith Tiempo is known for such writing, where she was quoted in “Filipino Writers in English: Their Story, 1905-2002” by Edna Zapanta Manlapaz [...]: ‘My whole stance in writing is tied up with being a woman… Writing, to a woman, has become one of the processes of her life, as natural as any of the others… If a woman is true to herself, she will write as a Romantic. If she turns off her inner promptings and attempts to be purely objective, I think the effect will be artificial because the life springs are not there.’” (Cruz). The very first pages of the book itself states that “The novel is in the tradition of the Romantic hero who runs away from a society he rejects to seek regeneration in a deeply natural environment.” (Tiempo 4). One of the core features of romantic thought is “Finding beauty in nature and the common man” (Somers), something that is easily seen in this novel. Perhaps that is why the story is not so plot-reliant; romantic works tend to concentrate on portraying and conveying emotions and feelings through elegantly made descriptions and long bouts of melancholic, spiritual thoughts. The passage below shows Bernardo trekking alone—as he often does—to observe the world around him.
It’s a romantic story through and through and because of that, it shies away from all the intensity and brashness that is so popular in most works. Not that those qualities are bad, but there is a new, refreshing feeling to read a story that is as subtle as a summer breeze but as dense with meaning as the earth. There is a softness to it that wonderfully makes it suitable to be called a novel about the Philippines. It perfectly captures the imagery of the countryside and its people, while simultaneously discussing the country’s struggle as a whole. A Blade of Fern has this aura of being frozen in its time—a painting of Filipino rural life. There is beauty in it, as well as sadness. It reminds us, in its calm and gentle way, to pursue freedom and to wander around.
Unfortunately, despite the wonderful descriptions of rural life which I am actually interested in, this is just too outdated for me. And to quote myself whenever I'm in a family reunion, "I'm too young for this." I don't why but Filipino English is so recognizable. The prose during her time are similar.
I also had trouble with the depiction of women here especially with how Bernardo gazes Angela like a pervert. I'm not sure if Tiempo was only depicting how the women were in the 1930s or this was truly her worldview of women--to be gazed at and to be supportive characters to men who are jerks and discredit women's work in the household. Maybe it was okay during her time but as I've said, outdated.