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Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not)

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In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal's Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, "The Noli," as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.

444 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1887

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About the author

José Rizal

211 books409 followers
Spanish exiled Philippine reformer and writer José Rizal from 1892 to 1896 for his political novels, later arrested him, and executed him for sedition; his death helped to fuel an insurrection against rule from 1896 to 1898.

José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, a polymath nationalist, most prominently advocated during the colonial era. Poeple consider him the national hero and commemorate the anniversary of his death as a holiday, called Rizal day. His military trial made him a martyr of the revolution.

The seventh of eleven children to a wealthy family in the town, Rizal attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, earning a Bachelor of Arts. He enrolled in medicine and philosophy and letters at the University of Santo Tomas and then traveled alone to Madrid, Spain, where he continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid, earning the licentiate in medicine. He attended the University of Paris and earned a second doctorate at the University of Heidelberg. Rizal, a polyglot, conversed at least in ten languages. He was a prolific poet, essayist, diarist, correspondent, and novelist whose most famous works were his two novels, Noli me Tangere and El filibusterismo. These are social commentaries on the Philippines that formed the nucleus of literature that inspired dissent among peaceful reformists and spurred the militancy of armed revolutionaries against the Spanish colonial authorities.

As a political figure, Rizal was the founder of La Liga Filipina, a civic organization that subsequently gave birth to the Katipunan led by Andrés Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo. He was a proponent of institutional reforms by peaceful means rather than by violent revolution. The general consensus among Rizal scholars, however, attributed his martyred death as the catalyst that precipitated the Philippine Revolution.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 498 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
May 23, 2023
“The people do not complain because they have no voice; do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer because you have not seen their hearts bleed.”

The words "required reading" are thrown around a lot but, thanks to the Rizal law, Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo are legally required reading in the Philippines. It's not hard to see why.

These books offer a scathing indictment of the treatment of native Filipinos by the colonial government and the Spanish friars during the late 19th century and, ultimately, paved the way for Philippine independence. Rizal exposed horrific inequalities in this book and, aside from a couple of dry spells (particularly the romance, which I couldn't care less about), it is a brutal and engaging tale.

Rizal doesn't hold back. He uses several different characters to tell emotive stories-- that of Sisa, Crispin and Basilio was particularly moving for me --but then moves to eloquent characters like Elías, having him explicitly make his argument for him in his conversations with Crisóstomo. In one scene, Elías passionately reveals the horrendous abuses of the native people at the hands of the Catholic friars and the Civil Guard.

As a reader invested in the fictional characters, I wanted a good outcome for them, but you should expect no warm fuzzies from Rizal; he's here to deliver some hard truths.

Please note that the book contains scenes of graphic violence and torture.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 2, 2012
This book is the most important literary work in the Philippines. One hundred twenty-six (126) after it was written, its message is still relevant to us Filipinos. I have also read a lot of other books written by local authors and, for me, the quality of Rizal’s writing is still unsurpassed.

"Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not) is a novel of the National Hero of the Philippines, Dr. Jose Rizal. The Latin title came from the Holy Bible, John 20:17 “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my father.” Biblical scholars do not know exactly why Jesus told this to Mary when later, He invited Thomas to touch His wound and in Matthew 28:9, when women saw Him, “they held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.” They were not told “not to touch Him.”

However, in the book, this phrase is alluded to by Elias referring to the impending revolution being planned by the rebels. Through Ibarra, he gives a warning to the Spanish friars for the continuous killings and injustices being done to the native Filipinos. He says that anytime, at a slight provocation, the revolution will start.

This 1887 novel was originally written in Spanish (first published in Germany). Its Filipino (Tagalog) translation is a required reading in third year high school throughout the country. The first time I read this was in school year 1978-1979 or more than 3 decades ago. I think the version that we read was the one with red cover and was translated by Domingo de Guzman (abridged, I think but it retained some Spanish phrases). However, just like my classmates then, I read it with passing the Pilipino course as my only motivation. I painstakingly memorized the plot, characters, events that had high probability of being asked in the quizzes and exams. Now, during this second reading, even after 33 years, I could still recall some names of the characters, some scenes and events. Like probably all Filipinos who finished third year high, we were all told that this novel caused Dr. Jose Rizal’s death by firing squad on December 30, 1896 or around 10 years after he started writing this. The Spanish friars banned this novel in the Philippines because this announced to the whole world the atrocities, injustices, killings and maltreatments that they were doing then to the native Filipinos who they also derogatorily referred to as indios. Rizal’s death was said to be the trigger for the Filipinos to work hard in their fight against the Spaniards. Then their efforts led to our country’s gaining of our independence from Spain via the Philippine Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1898. But then, this was after Spain lost to the USA during the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 resulting to the signing of Treaty of Paris between the two countries where Spain sold the Philippines to the USA to the tune of $20,000,000 (twenty million dollars).

So, did this book really make a big difference considering that the Treaty of Paris was the one that really ended the Spanish-American war and changed the country’s colonial master from Spain to the USA? Then Rizal was appointed as the National Hero of the Philippines because Governor-General Howard Taft, during the American occupation, thought that it would be “nice” for Filipinos to have its own national hero everyone can look up to? Then since Rizal had no anti-American leanings, Taft handpicked Rizal for the position?

For me, the answer is yes. This book, even if this did not really move mountains and earth for the Philippines, really helped Filipinos to realize that they were being treated badly by the Spaniards. The Filipinos let the friars' atrocities pass because the Spaniards also brought Christianity to the islands and these supposedly men of cloth fooled the Filipinos into believing that they would go to hell if they opposed the friars’ whims and caprices. So, the friars became powerful and ruled the country for 300 years. Then came Rizal. During one of his dinners in Barcelona, he suggested to his equally rich male ilustrado friends, that they collectively write a novel to expose the cruelty of the Spanish friars in the Philippines. They said yes but Rizal did not hear anything from them anymore. So, Rizal wrote this book all by himself. There was even an account that he sacrificed a lot like he picked cigarette butts from the street because it was cold in Germany when this book was published and he did not have money to buy even cigarettes.

The book is well-written. The plot is thick and can be interpreted in many ways. It is a love story not only between a man and a woman: a rich young unico hijo (only child) Crisostomo Ibarra and his fiancée, also a rich heiress, Maria Clara/Clarita but also the love of a person to his country. That second type of love is illustrated here by two characters with two different reasons: Ibarra loves his country because she provides for his happiness while Elias loves his country despite giving him all his sufferings. These two men also have opposing views on revolution. Realist Ibarra thinks that it is better for the Philippines to stay under Spanish rule and what he desires is only for the country to be a province of Spain so that the rights of the Filipinos will be the same as those of the Spaniards. Idealist Elias, on the other hand, thinks that this is impossible and total secession of the Philippines from Spain is the only solution to end all the social ills.

Almost all of the many characters are memorable and well developed. The descriptions of the settings are beautifully detailed, I thought that while reading some of the scenes, I could feel the dusty road, smell the animal dung, hear the galloping horses, see the crazy mother Sisa wearing her dirty tattered clothes and wandering the streets mindlessly. There are many poignant and dramatic scenes but I will never forget these two: the first one is when Sisa sees the ghost of her dead younger son Crispin and the second one is towards the ending when Elias asks the elder brother Basilio to burn his and Sisa’s body on Christmas Eve. The height of irony. I got goose bumps while reading these scenes that my 15-year old skin did not experience the first time I read this book 33 years ago.

The Spaniards conquistadores and Americans GIs have long been gone. Although this is contestable, the Philippines has long been a free country. Let’s say this is true. So, what is the legacy that this book has left for the present generation of the Filipinos? You see, I think the book still talks to us Filipinos. Rizal believed in the importance of education as inculcated in his mind by his parents and brother Paciano. He studied abroad, i.e., Spain, France and Germany, because his parents felt that the education in the Philippines was not enough. When he came back, he founded and ran a school for young boys in Dapitan. If Rizal were alive today, he would have been an educator - probably an owner or dean of a big university, or the secretary of Education or even the President of the Philippines. He must have surely have been repeatedly saying that the solution to the abject poverty that is now very much around is this: education of the masses. For me, that’s the most relevant message this book is telling us at this point in our nation’s journey.

Reminder to all Filipinos in Goodreads who have rated this less than 5 stars. This book caused the death of our National Hero by firing squad. This book triggered or fanned the 1886 revolution. This book made many Filipinos to fall down during the many succeeding revolts throughout the country. This book led to our independence. This book is well-written. Try to read this again now that you are more mature (no longer childish like when you were in high school) and see the difference. I am sure you will find this better than Divergent, The Hunger Games, Twilight and the Harry Potter series.
Profile Image for Jenn Avery.
53 reviews15 followers
August 28, 2014
When I picked up a novel with a stunning title like Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not), I expected to encounter a work dredged in corporeal, visceral experience and language. I wanted a novel centered on the function of touch: human interaction, physicality, phenomenology, flesh. I didn’t get this in Jose Rizal’s incredible text, but I didn’t really feel disappointed in not getting what I wanted — because in some ways I received a more meaningful gift.

Having read Pilipino literature before and not walking away fully satisfied, I struggled to understand fiction from this very underrepresented country. Rizal’s novel put Pilipino literature on the map for me as a force of exemplary fiction. Rizal absolutely ATTACKS…well…everything in this work. In fact, I have rarely seen such blatant and unapologetic interrogation of major social and cultural institutions in a work of fiction. In Touch, Rizal problematizes it all: medicine, religion and clergy, government, love, education. There are some moments that had me holding my breath because what Rizal suggests is so unfathomable, so dark, that I couldn’t actually believe I was reading it. For example, the clergy’s treatment of the two poor brothers was — in a word — unnamable. I gulped down tears and felt truly angered by the possibility that Rizal was writing from what he knew in the Philippines. I want to be clear here: I nearly vomited. There was so much disgusting insinuation in this novel that I couldn’t close my eyes to it: Rizal paints a picture that you hate seeing but that you cannot pull your eyes from.

The novel has a power that I haven’t encountered a long time. That power doesn’t rest with the narrative style (which vacillates strangely and ineffectively). It also, for me, doesn’t originate from its hero, Ibarra. Ibarra is a weak hero who struggles to stand for anything much. The narrator is actually the hero of Rizal’s tale, and perhaps Maria Clara who refuses to participate when she doesn’t believe in the institution (such as marriage without love). The relationship between Ibarra and Maria Clara was the triumph of the novel, and I liked that it never comes to fruition. Unlike so many of the issues Rizal brings to the table, the love story is not problematized as a disgusting enterprise. It is criticized, instead, as an impossible one.

One reason that the love seems so impossible because, despite the title of this novel, TOUCH is missing from the pages of this fiction. The institutions seem untouchable; yet, so do the characters — and not in a theoretical way: in a physical way. There is no (appropriate, loving) touching here. I craved that. With so much violence, I longed for it more than anything else in Rizal’s piece. But he is relentless and unkind; he won’t allow that kind of touching. And by doing so, he touched me.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
March 7, 2019
At age thirty-five, José Rizal was sentenced to death by a firing squad because of what he wrote. Even at death he was a rebel, refusing a blindfold and requesting to face his executors. After over three centuries of colonial resentment, the Philippine Revolution had begun. The title of this novel is taken from the biblical context, when Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. The dictionary places Noli Me Tangere in this context: "a person or thing that must not be touched or interfered with."

This book is a complex layer of stories and characters with overarching subject, although at its core, it is about change. After news of his father's death, Ibarra returns home to the Philippines after living and studying in Europe for seven years. He yearns for the home and society he left (in fact he spends an increasingly annoying span of time being in denial) and yet through misfortune he realizes, as Thomas Wolfe has put it, "you can't go home again." He finds himself an alien at home, in a place with a fractured system. The friars, who control the church, also control Filipino politics and individual rights. Ibarra soon learns how his father was wrongfully imprisoned and how his death was marred by betrayal. When Ibarra chooses to be vocal about his father's death, he is immediately ostracized. Once the priest he attacks denunciates him, society dictates that he can no longer marry the love of his life; soon, he finds himself a wanted man.

The novel ebbs and flows with sadness and satire, love and heartbreak. It is not the easiest to read because it meanders into past and present tense, the narration veers between first person plural and third person, and numerous characters and subplots are introduced. One often hears about the love story of Ibarra and Maria Clara, but one heart aches as a reader, since one never gets to see them truly evolve. It is a love that is dimmed by the control of societal hierarchy. Elias, a character not often spoken about, emerges and simply steals the attention with his tragic history and his renegade lifestyle where, even he, has given up on the love that is perhaps strong enough to help him overcome his life of pain. At each turn in this book, love is shunned or halted. Love, the only force more powerful than hate.

I buy and read so many used books a year (because I still believe that the transfer of a physical book is powerful) and I recycle books by donating some to public libraries. However, this is one book I'll keep for my shelves and one I would suggest that everyone should read once. It is most likely a book meant to be read a few times to truly uncover its complexities; nonetheless, it is one meant to help each reader discover the world.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
March 2, 2014
My third time to read this most important novel ever in the Philippines. The first two, I read in Tagalog (in high school as a requirement and two years ago as a group read in a book club). This time, I read the English version. This particular translation is said to be the best because this was written by Soledad Lacson-Locsin who was a native Spanish speaker and she was 86 years old when she agreed to write this book. Educated at Assumption Convent, she knew by heart both English and Spanish so she was able to translate this book (originally published in Spanish) into contemporary English (his son Raul L. Locsin helped him on this) but maintaining the cadence of Spanish language. The end product is like a book written for today's readers but with the aftertaste of a classic book by a Latin American author. Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Eca de Quiros.

Two years ago, I gave the Tagalog version of this book a perfect rating of 3 stars (I still liked it). Now, despite the awesome translation of Locsin, I have lowered my appreciation of this book to 4. Why? I attended the Basic Apologetics Class sponsored by Defensores Fidei and realized that this book was Rizal's personal propaganda against the Spanish friars that abused his family. Well, maybe he also thought that this would inspire (and it did) the Filipino people to raise arms against the Mother Spain but first and foremost, in my opinion now, there is vindictiveness to avenge what the Dominican friars did to his family especially to his aging dear mother. It so happened that his family was not alone bearing the hardships of being maltreated by some friars so the collective uprising against Spain happened and culminated to what is known as the The Philippine Revolution of 1896.

All the friars here - Padre Salvi who my friend Po opines to be the cruelest among the villains in the book, Padre Damaso the acid-tongue womanizer who is the most hated priest in Philippine Literature and Padre Sibyla are portrayed negatively as if they have nothing good about themselves. Even the seminarian who is with Ibarra and Maria Clara in the picnic made sexual innuendo to the ladies. I mean, Rizal hated the Spanish friars so much that he chose to show only their negative sides. This is a worrisome realization because this book, along with the sequel, El Filibusterismo (2nd reading - 5 stars) are required readings in all high schools here in the Philippines. This is probably one of the reasons why many Catholics in the country are now fond of criticizing the Catholic church despite the fact that 85% of the population are still under the Papal's fold.

This doesn't mean though that I have lower respect for this book. I still like it and still see its importance to Philippine history and our pride as Filipinos. However, we have to take into consideration that Spain also brought other things like commerce and industry to the Philippines. We also need to take note that definitely not all friars were bad like these villains in Rizal's novels. There are some, like in F. Sionil's PO-ON (5 stars) who takes care of the young Istak and plans to send him to the seminary. We need to change our perspective and not limit our view to the friar's atrocities and excesses. After all, they are human too and priests do commit mistakes just like each of us. We also have to remember that we need to respect them for their priestly vocation of following the footsteps of Christ and their human frailties are just but they too are human.

I am not saying that this book should be banned to uplift the image of the Catholic church in the country. Maybe our teachers should put more caution and present a more balanced view while discussing the book. My teacher back in high school did not. So for 40+ years my images of Spanish friars were all sex maniacs, corrupt, power-crazy and hooligans.
Profile Image for Louize.
426 reviews43 followers
August 28, 2012

Dr. Jose Rizal wrote two novels in an attempt to stir the Filipino’s thoughts and emotions; and with great hope that freedom may be obtained in a peaceful way – without the violence that had claimed many heroic lives. Noli Me Tangere is the first, followed by El Filibusterismo.

We’ve read this, a long time ago, back in High School. Compulsory reading does not usually reap good harvest; but once the seed was planted, it stays within. We had a very passionate teacher, and she loved Dr. Rizal. She spoke well in English, Filipino, and Spanish, so translation was never a problem. Whenever we hit a brick wall, she would make us drill. It was exhausting, sometimes exciting, and often boring; but no one would dare sleep in Mrs. Abanto’s class, never.

“...for the soil is not ready, it is only sown with discord.”

I believe the Old Sage’s words best described Philippines -before and now. Once, I wanted to ask the national hero of his thoughts on the Philippines today. Have we achieved his dreams? Is the Philippines any better now than before he had left us? Are we enjoying the economy and education he fought and died for?

To think of the social cancer disabling us was heartbreaking, but inspirations are not lacking if we but look closely. The Filipino in us will find them in every child behind us, tagging at our shirt, begging for a peso or a parting. We will find it in a street child, along Roxas Blvd., just starting to learn the Abakada at the age of 10. We will find it in every family we see soaking wet treading the flood; or laying on mats at the evacuation centers, hungry and beaten, but always ready to give you their best smiles. There is no reason to stop and let go.

Now I understand Mrs. Abanto’s passion. Patriotism, resilience, and courage were things we cannot learn in school, it’s in the very fabric of our Filipino blood. The school’s purpose was to plant the seed of hope that someday we will understand better. I found treasure in the Lunatics reasoning, a bastion in this ever disputing country.

“If such should happen, if the enterprise should fail, you would be consoled by the thought that you had done what was expected of you and thus something would be gained. You would have placed the first stone, you would have sown the seed, and after the storm had spent itself perhaps some grain would have survived the catastrophe to grow and save the species from destruction and to serve afterwards as the seed for the sons of the dead sower. The example may encourage others who are only afraid to begin.”

If it’s lunacy, then so be it.

Original review posted here.
Profile Image for Lisa.
3,311 reviews417 followers
March 5, 2017
The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, and it is not often that one has the opportunity to read a novel that has forged an independence movement. Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) (1887) by José Rizal is such a book, for although its author advocated reform not independence, the novel was so instrumental in articulating a Filipino identity that it provoked resistance against the Spanish colonial regime. Ostensibly it is a love story, but one set against a backdrop of repression and violence. Rizal would be dead within ten years, executed by firing squad in Manila. But his novel has lived on…

The author’s satirical intent is evident in the very first paragraph:

Towards the end of October, Don Santiago de los Santos, who was generally known as Captain Tiago, gave a dinner party that, despite its having been announced only that afternoon, which was not his usual practice, was the topic of every conversation in Bimondo and neighboring areas, and even as far as Intramuros. In those days Captain Tiago was considered the most liberal of men, and it was known that the doors of his house, like those of his country, were closed to no one but tradesmen or perhaps a new or daring idea. (p5)

The Spanish authorities who read this book in the 1880s could be in no doubt, then, about this challenge, and Rizal had the church in his sights too. On the same page his narrator says of Captain Tiago’s house that he doesn’t think that the owner would have demolished it ‘because this sort of work is usually reserved for God or nature, which has, it appears, many projects of this type under contract with our government’. The book is a savage critique of the church, exposing brutality, venality and sexual exploitation of women. The clergy are shown to encourage ignorance, superstition and social inequity on a grand scale. And above all, the church conspires with the colonial authorities to ensure acquiescence in the status quo.

To read the rest of my review please visit http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/201...

A big thank you to KD for sending it to me!
Profile Image for Bennard.
36 reviews11 followers
August 31, 2012
from The Book Hooligan

"I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land! You, who have it to see, welcome it — and forget not those who have fallen during the night!" - Elias

I know of two anecdotes regarding Rizal's poem, Mi Ultimo Adios. The first anecdote is about how US Congressman Henry A. Cooper recited Rizal's final poem to the US Congress as a part of his effort to lobby for the self-government of the Philippines. This moved the US Congress to such a degree that they passed a bill known as the Cooper Act which granted, among many things, the US Bill of Rights to the Philippines; and allowed the Philippines to send two representatives to the US Congress. The second anecdote is about how Rosihan Anwar, an Indonesian journalist, translated the poem into Indonesian and subsequently read it over radio for all Indonesians to hear. Then, during the Indonesian National Revolution, Indonesian soldiers recited the poem before going into battle to serve as their inspiration. Some of them may not have known Rizal, but they recognized that the poem transcended the author and was one of their sources for bravery.

Rizal is a very monumental figure in the history of anti-colonialism not only in the Philippines but in Asia as well. He is the contemporaries of Sun Yat Sen of China and Rabindranath Tagore of India. Although he did not advocate open revolution, which he considered a shortcut to independence ("Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"), he still advocated for independence through reforms and assimilation with Spain. He believed that if, little by little, we acquire the dignity of people worthy of independence then we will become worthy of being a free nation.

His views regarding this can be found in his novel, Noli Me Tangere(Touch Me Not) which tells the story of Ibarra, a bright young man, who dreams of a Philippines that is educated and dignified and who has resolved to play a part in changing his country by building a school in his hometown. Along the way, we met numerous characters who support Ibarra wholeheartedly; support him in the open but oppose him secretly; and oppose him directly. The narrative is basically about what precipitated Ibarra's downfall.

However, there are a lot of other characters in Noli who experienced, in varying degrees, what will happen to Ibarra at the time of the book's end. There is Sisa who was robbed of her sanity because of the burden of losing her two sons; there is Elias who lost everything before he was even born due to his ancestor's unjust misfortune; there is the schoolteacher who is openly mocked even if he is doing what is best for his students; there is Don Anastasio perhaps the only enlightened man in the whole town yet he is considered as crazy; and many more. The book, then, is more about the injustices suffered by those who have done nothing to merit such misfortune and those who only seek to do good. And then there are those who live a comfortable life because either they are ignorant of the injustices in the system or because they are evil.

Noli Me Tangere is more of a social commentary than a novel. The static characters, the sometimes confusing narrative, and the overabundance of words are among its flaws. But Rizal does not need to be a master writer in writing Noli Me Tangere because the novel is a work intended for the awakening of the Filipino people against the shadows of tyranny. Noli Me Tangere, if it were written today, would not be about the Palanca Award or the Man Asia Literary Prize. It would be to affect social change and revive Filipino nationalism, pride, and dignity.

And, even if it has flaws, Noli Me Tangere is still an enjoyable read because of how it portrayed Spanish-era Philippines. From the pretentiousness of Indios who wants to become Spaniards to the love dance of Ibarra and Maria Clara; and the politics among the friars, the government, and the people. The dynamics between the characters, although most of them are static, are funny, heartbreaking, and lovely sometimes all at the same time.

For all the years that have passed since its publication, Noli Me Tangere still remains relevant. We are still beset with social injustice and inequality that Rizal must be rolling in his grave right now. The social cancer has not yet been eradicated but I know that, just like Rizal, every decent Filipino in the country right now is hoping for the day that our national hero's dream will be fully realized and such a dream will come closer within our grasp if we, even in our own small way, do our part.
Profile Image for Harry Rutherford.
376 reviews75 followers
February 22, 2012
Noli Me Tangere is described on the back cover as ‘The novel that sparked the Philippine revolution’. Which sounds a bit hyperbolic, but apparently the publication of the novel in 1887 was an important moment; even more so, Rizal’s subsequent execution for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.

So it’s a political novel, an unusually early example of a colonial novel written from the perspective of the colonised. In this case, the main representatives of colonial power are from the church rather than the civil authorities. That’s not unique; religion has often been an important tool of empire and post-colonial novels are full of priests and nuns and, above all, church schools. But the Philippines does seem to have been an extreme case, where the religious institutions were more powerful than the civil authorities.

Which means that the book is peopled with villainous friars — cruel, vindictive, scheming, manipulative, hypocritical, lustful, oleaginous — and it reminded me of those early gothic novels which always seemed to have sinister, black-hearted monks in them. Especially since it’s never shy of a bit of melodrama.

In fact, it’s a rather lumpy mixture of melodrama, satire and long, wordy political discussions, and I can’t say all of it held my attention equally. I liked it most when it was at its most exaggerated — ferociously satirical or floridly gothic — and I found it fell a bit flat when it aimed for genuine sentiment.

A mixed bag for me, then. Bits of it are genuinely brilliant, though. There’s a scene with gravediggers at work in a badly over-crowded cemetery which is wonderfully morbid, for example; and a grotesque portrayal of an ageing Filipina who is so determined to marry a Spaniard and be ‘Spanish’ herself that she marries a useless, feckless man whose only quality is that in the Philippines his nationality gives him an ersatz respectability, then insists on only speaking broken Spanish.

Noli Me Tangere is my book from the Philippines for the Read the World challenge.
Profile Image for RE de Leon.
59 reviews92 followers
Currently reading
January 24, 2011
The Bookmark/Locsin Translation of Noli Me Tangere (aka "The Social Cancer") is my 200th BookReads book! :D

I've sorta been adding random picks from my shelves all this time (and logging in all the new acquisitions), but I've made a tradition of marking the hundred-multiple marks by picking special books. And for 200, it's good ol' Pepe.

I've been thinking for a while that I ought to do a four-way translation review of Noli, since enjoying it is infamously translator-dependent. The four key translations being: Derbyshire, Guererro, Locsin/Bookmark, and the new Penguin/International edition. I now have copies of the three newer translations, and I'm hoping F.Sionil Jose's La Solidaridad Bookstore will still have copies of the Derbyshire translations.

A note on these translations: if you are NOT a Filipino, then I highly recommend you read the Penguin edition instead of any other. That translation was specifically 'written' with a modern international audience in mind, and will be the most helpful if you're not familiar with the specifics of the place and era that serve as a setting for the book; a familiarity of that setting is something Filipinos will often take for granted, so they may recommend the Locsin or Guerrero translations to you. Do yourself a favor: go for Penguin.

For Filipino readers, however, the Locsin translations are said to be an exceptional translation, notable for being able to capture the humour of the novel. Until now, I've had a greater appreciation of Rizal's sequel, El Filibusterismo. Noli seeming too melodramatic. I'm hopeful Locsin will give me a new appreciation of the novel Rizal considered far superior between the two.

I should add one more thing before closing this pre-reading note: I am thankful to Goodreads for the fact that I recognized this edition as the Locsin edition at all! I'd kept hearing that the Locsin translations were pretty good, and went around bookstores asking for them. (They are now rare.) Because of Goodreads Philippines meetings, I finally realized that the Locsin editions of Noli were the ones I thought of as the "Bookmark" editions. I had noticed the publisher, but not the translator. As it turned out, they were available in a second hand book shelf I knew about in La Union. I promptly marched over and picked up my copy of the "Locsin/Bookmark" Noli and Fili.

And now I'm about to start reading Rizal. See you when I get to the the back cover. :D

RE de Leon
Beginning Noli Me Tangere by Jose P. Rizal (trans. Soledad Lacson-Locsin)

Agoo, La Union
23.43 PM January 24, 2011
489 reviews36 followers
March 24, 2013
"Noli Me Tangere" is one of those rare books that can truly be called revolutionary in any sense other than style. Jose Rizal's critique of Philippine society under the Spanish crown and Catholicism is blistering. This is one free thinker who wrote what he thought. And paid for it--no doubt this novel was accounted part of the political career that got him shot. It reads very much like a twentieth century novel struggling to escape from a nineteenth century one. All the much-used devices of the nineteenth century Latin American melodrama (which live on in the telenovela) are in evidence--the doomed aristocratic lovers, lives complicated by hidden parentage, noble natives who sacrifice themselves. The moments that the novel really comes alive are less those that belong to the doomed lovers Maria Clara and Crisostomo than its often satirical, sometimes affectionate, and always unblinkered scenes and language from Filipino life: the cockfight, the cruelty, both social and political, the all-too-worldly and competitive friars, the quack medicine, the inept governance, the tension between those who speak Spanish, those who speak Tagalog, and those who speak something in between. One can enjoy the novel without reading every page-long political speech, or perhaps any of them. The book's soul is not in the heartbreak of the two lovers. It is in the heartbreak of an entire society.
Profile Image for Mariya.
176 reviews22 followers
March 25, 2023
"Put on your masks; you are again among your brothers!"

A writing which has beauty, humour, love, depth.
I went into "Noli me Tangere" with no expectations.. And I fell in love with it from the first pages. José Rizal is a master of his art - his deep understanding of psychological, political, and social phenomena is remarkable, and his ability to describe them with such eloquence and humour is nothing short of brilliant. His ideas are so ahead of their time, that some of the seeds he sowed have barely sprouted by now, 130 years after the book was written.
This book made me laugh, it made me angry, it surprised me, it brought tears to my eyes. I have nothing but praise for Noli Me Tángere and I consider it a must read for people who appreciate beautiful and meaningful literature.

"I honour the father for his son, but not the son for his father. Let each one receive his reward or punishment for his own deeds, not for the deeds of others."

"Had the church, founded for suffering humanity, forgotten her mission to comfort the afflicted and the down-trodden and to humble the powerful in their pride, and were her promises now only for the rich, who could afford to pay?"

"With the hypocrisy of Nature, the lake slept quietly among its mountains as if the night before it had not conspired with the storm."

"People believe that those who don't think as they do are crazy and that's why they think me crazy. I'm grateful for it because the day I regain my reason according to their standards they'll take away the small measure of freedom I have purchased with my reputation as a rational being."

"Why shouldn't we do as that weak stem loaded with roses and buds?” asked the scholar, pointing to a beautiful rose bush. “The wind blows and shakes it and it bows down as if to hide its precious burden. If the stem were to stay straight it would break, and the wind would scatter the flowers, and the buds would die unopened. But the wind passes on and the stem straightens up again, proud of its treasure. Who will blame it for having bowed to necessity?"

"It's a bad doctor, sir, who only seeks to correct and suppress symptoms without trying to determine the cause of the illness, or, knowing it, fears to go after it."

"You loved your country because that is what your father taught you to do. You loved her because you had love, wealth, youth, and fortune here. Your country had not been unjust to you; and you loved her as we love all that makes us happy. But the day you find yourself poor, hungry, hunted, and delivered to your enemies for a price by your own countrymen, that day you will disown yourself, your country, and humanity itself."

"¡Muero sin ver la aurora brillar sobre mi patria...!, Vosotros, que la habéis de ver, saludadla... ¡No os olvidéis de los que han caído durante la noche!"
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,681 followers
August 12, 2016
Noli Me Tangere, Rizal's first and most famous novel is a book that exposes the inequities of the Spanish Catholic priests and the ruling government. He successfully captures the essence of our country's culture and practices during the time. Rizal also depicted nationality, he did this by emphasizing the qualities of Filipinos: the devotion of a Filipina and her influence on a man's life, the deep sense of gratitude, and the solid common sense of the Filipinos under the Spanish regime. The work was instrumental in creating a unified Filipino national identity and consciousness, as many natives previously identified with their respective regions. It lampooned, caricatured and exposed various elements in colonial society. Two characters in particular have become classics in Filipino culture: Maria Clara, who has become a personification of the ideal Filipina woman, loving and unwavering in her loyalty to her spouse; and the priest Father Dámaso, who reflects the covert fathering of illegitimate children by members of the Spanish clergy. I loved Rizal's allegory about the cancer of society. (It has also been noted by French writer D. Blumenstihl that “Noli me tangere” was a name used by ophthalmologists for cancer of the eyelids.) I also loved the ending. The ending reflects the tragedy that we have suffered. It shows the reality of life. That our beautiful country has gone crazy because of the Spanish priests taking advantage of it and that it wails because of the misfortune that has come upon it. This novel is a symbol. One cannot deny the effects of this book on our country, it's role in our independence. It's the quintessential Filipino novel.
Profile Image for Tina.
444 reviews457 followers
September 14, 2012
Original post at One More Page

Noli Me Tangere is a revolutionary book by our national hero, Jose Rizal, and is said to spark the revolution against the Spanish rule in our country. This was areal required reading book for Filipino high school students so I was able to read this book for our Filipino class. Or at least, I was able to read a condensed version of this book, since our textbook back then contained summarized chapters with discussion questions (which we have to summarize yet again and answer). We were also required to watch movies related to the book (and the author), as well as watch a stage play and produce our own in high school. So I was really, pretty much saturated by this then that I felt that I had no reason to read it again.

I remember liking it very much in high school. A few years later, when I was getting serious with reading more local fiction, I realized that I haven't read the full text of Noli MeTangere. Because I was ambitious like that, I said that I would read it in its entirety someday. I planned to read it last year but gave up after the first 100 or so pages. ^^; Then the opportunity came again when it became our book club's book of the month for August, so I thought: this is it. I thought I would be able to read it easier now, given that I've been venturing out of my reading comfort zone lately.

Of course, I was wrong. I don't know if I was just simply busy, but Noli Me Tangere proved to be a difficult read. It was easy for the first third or so, but I lagged so much after that I wasn't sure if I could finish it. Then I got past 400 pages, and I realized that there were about 50+ pages of appendices that didn't count in the total story, so it was just 150+ pages before the end. I powered through and finished 3am on the day of our discussion. Buzzer beater!

To cut the long story short: as a piece of fiction, I didn't see Noli Me Tangere as a really good book. It had a lot of good moments, but half the time, it was kind of dragging. There were a lot of chapters where nothing really happened except the people were talking about what just happened in the previous chapter -- gossiping characters, which is actually a very Filipino trait, but it felt like fodder in the story. The main characters were a little one-dimensional, and I wonder why I actually liked reading about Crisostomo Ibarra back then when he can be so...boring. Maria Clara was far from the strong female character that I liked reading in my books, and in fact, I liked her best friend, Sinang, more. There was some kind of hope in Padre Damaso, who showed a bit more depth in his character, but it wasn't until the very end.

Saying these makes me feel like I'm a bad Filipino, eep. :| But it's not that it's a bad book -- Rizal is a talented writer and I liked several parts of the book for its descriptive but not purple writing. I really ended up still liking the book in the end, despite the struggle. Maybe I was just really busy for August that's why it was hard to read? But I figure there may be two other reasons for this: first is that even if I first heard of the story 11 years ago, it was still too close to my schooling years that reading it again still felt too academic and I can't get out of that mindset. Another is that...perhaps it's just not really my kind of book just yet.

I really, really appreciate the effort behind producing this book, as well as how it was instrumental to major events in my country's history. I wanted to give this book 3 stars, but I felt like I owe this book something because of what it sparked for my country's freedom. I am gratefu for that, and it makes the difficulty of reading this book easier to forgive compared to the other difficult books I've read. Overall, it's okay, and I honor Jose Rizal for it. I'm glad that I have finally read Noli Me Tangere and I will read the full text of its sequel someday (not sure how soon, but someday!). But I totally understand now why we were given a condensed version back in high school. :)
Profile Image for Faye.
12 reviews
September 23, 2007
I have to admit, the only reason why I read this book is because we were required to take it up in high school. If it wasn't pushed by the Department of Education I wouldn't even think of reading this novel because it's quite long (the Noli Me Tangere copy I have is the thick, hardbound book published in Manila). Good thing my sister has the annotated copy with questions after every chapter to help me understand the symbolisms, etc.

I am not sure if I am being biased here (I am Filipino) but I really enjoyed this novel because it has everything in it (drama, suspense, romance...) and it gives me a glimpse of the period before the culmination of the Phil. revolutionary war. If you are not familiar with Philippine history and culture you might find it difficult to appreciate the novel. Some parts of it may seem exagerrated (like the crocodile scene) or trivial (Fr. Damaso going irate over 'tinola') so it is important to know where the author is coming from to understand why such scenes are important in the development of the story.
Profile Image for Angélica.
197 reviews13 followers
May 9, 2012
Recently read this for my PI 100 class. The classic Tagalog makes for a challenging read because of the vocabulary (my Filipino vocab is sadly lacking), but I promised to myself to read at least Noli, Fili, and Sucesos. The essential Rizal, as my PI 100 prof puts it. I now understand (or at least I have a teensy bit clearer idea) why Claro M. Recto wanted to pass the Rizal Law. I would've wanted students to read about his ideas too, especially with the way the Philippines is going...
The anticlerical parts in the novel are interesting to read, too. >:)
Profile Image for Dante.
80 reviews16 followers
October 27, 2012
I enjoyed this novel a lot. It's a real page turner.

And this is surprising for me. We were required to read this in high school (I think it's still required reading in all Philippine schools, public and private, but I may be wrong). Jose Rizal is one of our national heroes, and perhaps the greatest. But back then I thought it was dry and boring. During Filipino class, my mind wandered elsewhere. As a result, I failed to appreciate it.

What is the story about? (Spoilers ahead!)

Basically, Noli Me Tangere is a love story. The setting is 19th century Philippines, during the latter years of the country as Spain's only colony in Asia. So in the background, there's politics.

It's a love story not only between two individuals, Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara de los Santos, but also between persons and the motherland.

The love stories are tragic. When I finished the novel, I got a bit depressed. But that was just Rizal's aim. He dedicated the novel to his country. What he did, or what he promised to do, was hold up a mirror in front of Philippine society and allow it to see the truth of its condition. The truth, as he saw it, was that the Philippines is being eaten up by a social cancer. And his countrymen, unfortunately, are asleep. They needed to be awakened from their slumber and see the real state of things so that they can find freedom and happiness.

What is the social cancer?

Rizal believed, I think, that the social cancer eating away the tissues of Philippine society are the following:

1. Corruption and abuse of power (By many of the friars and Spanish administration officials);
2. Ignorance or lack of education;
3. Superstitious beliefs or lack of knowledge about one's religion;
4. Hypocrisy of the friars;
5. Vices like gambling and tendency to gossip;
6. Indolence;
7. Passivity;
8. Cowardice; and
9. Lust

The question is, how faithfully did Rizal's novel portray Philippine society? We need to consult our history books for that.

Before reading this book, I used to think that the misery that the Filipinos in Rizal's time experienced was simply inflicted by the friars and Spanish officials. In the Noli, however, it's not as simple as that. There was an interplay of the above factors: Yes, many of the friars were corrupt, hypocritical, and abusive, but many of the common people were not entirely blameless. Many of the latter were ignorant of their own religion; they held superstitious beliefs alongside Catholic beliefs, even if the two are incompatible. Many were also fond of gambling: For example, Sisa's husband. His addiction to cock-fighting left him and his family constantly in want of money, so that Sisa had to compensate by working long hours and sending her two sons to the parish house to work under extremely harsh and unjust circumstances. If her husband were more decent and responsible, Sisa's sons would've been spared and her sanity unharmed. So, their family would've stayed intact. Many of the Filipinos were also passive and cowardly. When they witnessed injustices done to their fellow indios, they did nothing out of fear.

I think that the Noli does not really indict religion, or Catholicism, itself. It only brings out as ugly, dangerous, and destructive corruption and hypocrisy.

What is the plot?

Here's a sketch:

Crisostomo Ibarra is the son of a wealthy man in the town of San Diego. He is half-Spanish and half-indio. The novel begins with a social gathering in the house of one Captain Santiago. This party is well-attended by the who's-who of society: Padre Damaso, Padre Salvi, Padre Sibyla, a Spanish journalist, some members of the Spanish army, and some members of the Philippine elite, like the Españadas.

Ibarra arrived from Europe (after almost seven years, studying and travelling) and joins the assembly. Padre Damaso quickly reveals himself as a very odious man. In contrast, Padre Salvi is more quiet and mysterious, but many times more conniving and downright sinister. They are Franciscans, so it's highly ironic that they're not peace-loving, gentle, pure, honest, and holy.

Ibarra soon learns of his father's fate. He is enraged, but he swallows his bitterness and directs his energies to more constructive efforts, like gifting his town with its own school, something that was sorely needed.

At first, Ibarra was quite optimistic. But he faced stiff and violent opposition from his enemies, so in the end he was radicalized, with the help of the mysterious Elias.

Maria Clara loves him dearly, but she is caught up in her own problems and dilemmas. She's trapped in a web of lies and evil and she couldn't get away from it.

The other interesting characters in the story are: Tasio, the philosopher; Sisa, and her two sons; Captain Tiago; Aunt Isabel; the ensign and his wife, Doña Consolacion; Don Tiburcio Españada, the quack doctor, and his wife, Doña Victorina.

Like I said, the ending is pretty grim. So I'm looking forward to El Filibusterismo.

Why "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not)?

The phrase is taken from John 20:17:

Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Perhaps Rizal was simply referring to the Spanish friars, like Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi, who were corrupt and hypocritical but were "untouchables" because of their power. Jesus was the Son of God and is therefore the "fountain of all holiness", but the friars were vile and violent, so it's highly ironic that the phrase should refer to them.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews14 followers
September 30, 2015

Description: A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, "The Noli," as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.

Free download: https://www.goodreads.com/ebooks/down...

Title taken from John 20:17

Opening: A Social Gathering: On the last of October Don Santiago de los Santos, popularly known as Capitan Tiago, gave a dinner. In spite of the fact that, contrary to his usual custom, he had made the announcement only that afternoon, it was already the sole topic of conversation in Binondo and adjacent districts, and even in the Walled City, for at that time Capitan Tiago was considered one of the most hospitable of men, and it was well known that his house, like his country, shut its doors against nothing except commerce and all new or bold ideas. Like an electric shock the announcement ran through the world of parasites, bores, and hangers-on, whom God in His infinite bounty creates and so kindly multiplies in Manila. Some looked at once for shoe-polish, others for buttons and cravats, but all were especially concerned about how to greet the master of the house in the most familiar tone, in order to create an atmosphere of ancient friendship or, if occasion should arise, to excuse a late arrival.

I have an acquaintance who says she can go for weeks in noli me tangere mode. Her conversation becomes surface and benign, platitudes reign supreme and I love her for it, she has a tough job, crowded family life and over-stretched social agenda. So when searching for an amusing visual for her birthday I was pretty well taken by surprise that this phrase formed the title of a book, and it was available as a free download.

The English title of this book is 'The Social Cancer' and it is over 500 pages of present tense observations, some of which made me smile:

'One of the civilians is a very small man with a black beard, the only thing notable about him being his nose, which, to judge from its size, ought not to belong to him.'

I skim read, just hovering over passages that related to the bigger picture of those time, yet had hours of interest piqued by surfing for historical facts concerning the ousting of Spain from the Philippines.

Photo of Jose Rizals execution (1896).

Profile Image for Claire.
11 reviews
February 13, 2010
I first attempted to read "Noli Me Tangere" almost three years ago, but I couldn't get into it. The first chapter had me stuck, and I got tired of constantly flipping back to the footnotes. (Maybe I've been out of academia too long!) Parts drag, the language can be overwrought and flowery, and some of the political, religious and philosophical references can be obscure and challenging.

But I'm glad I stuck with it! Certain chapters are incredibly compelling, and it really picks up towards the middle. Once I got used to the language, I found myself poring over and bookmarking passages. The story is epic, rife with symbolism that spans cultures. The violence is intense and gory, there's a sensual undercurrent, and characters both likable and loathsome.

I was raised in the States but spent many summers in my mother's homeland of the Philippines as a child, so some of this is familiar to me; I didn't know much about the revolution, so this provides an excellent introduction and glimpse into the history. To wit--colonialism is f*cked up!

The story is especially moving when you consider the martyrdom of its author. I'd recommend it to any other halfie Hapa mestizo/as like me-- learn about your ancestors' struggle!
Profile Image for Gianne Kris.
92 reviews18 followers
January 8, 2011
after reading this book, the events one will remember will be the little events that took place. the events that reflects the events, condition, and treatments received by the Filipinos during the prior to/and during his time.
Profile Image for Kobe Bryant.
1,040 reviews144 followers
June 27, 2013
This book helped start a revolution and other than getting you laid thats the coolest thing a book can do
Profile Image for mia glsn.
38 reviews
February 25, 2022
Religious hypocrisy, brutality, corruption; 'The Social Cancer' so unbearable that the sufferer did not want to be touched, hence 'Noli Me Tángere'.

For many books, I cried and moved on. For this, I shed no tears, yet the pain will always last. How could I lament over suffering that I have never experienced? It made more sense to reflect on the fact that in my hands, I held what was a catalyst for a revolutionary movement.

Admirably, Rizal questioned why it was more criminal to be a subversive than to demonstrate violence for personal gain, masked as 'religious' duty. However, I am not criticising the secular, progressive and liberal Spain that existed during that time, but rather the Philippine Spain ruled by frailocracy - those were 'las dos Españas'.

I will never forget Elías' courage, Crisóstomo's strong will to do good, Sisa's demonstration of irreplaceable maternal love, Tasio's wisdom and María Clara's gentleness. This book helped me remember the beauty of my birth country, but also recognise its faults. In light of the 2022 Philippine presidential election, this book has also helped me understand how the country came to be what it is today. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in politics but can also appreciate Rizal's artistry in the way he presented his views. Noli Me Tángere will live with me forever.

“The people do not complain because they have no voice; do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer because you have not seen their hearts bleed.”
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
November 21, 2020
Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are Filipino classics and reading them, it is easy to see why. They tell the story of Juan Crisotomo Ibarra, a young mixed-race Filipino from an affluent family.

Noli Me Tangere, the first volume of the novel, begins with the return of young Ibarra to the Philippines after seven years in Europe. On his return, he discovers that his father has died in a prison cell, falsely accused of a crime. Rather than give in to bitterness and revenge, he chooses instead to follow his father's teachings, and he decides to work to create better conditions for the Filipino village community where he grew up. 

With his family wealth, he determines to build a school for the village and in his idealism and naivete, fails to realise that this will incur the wrath of the Catholic priests who are determined to keep the natives poor and ignorant, all the better to control them. Even after being warned, he presses ahead with his plans and quickly learns how ferocious the resistance is going to be.

Ibarra is affianced to his childhood love, Maria Clara. But his fight against the dictates of the Church quickly render him toxic to her father. She also learns of family skeletons that force her to reject Ibarra, who she truly loves, for a man considered more suitable by her father as the man is a white Spaniard and not Eurasian like Ibarra.

The events of Noli Me Tangere are continued in El Filibusterismo, which is a darker, more bitter half. The innocent this time is Basilio, who we saw earlier as a boy in Noli Me Tangere. Now a young man, he is on the verge of acquiring his doctor's degree. Despite his childhood experiences in Noli Me Tangere, he has retained a youthful idealism and together with some friends, they choose to seek the approval of the Spanish authorities for the wider teaching of Castillian to the Filipino population.

He meets a mysterious Simoun, a wealthy jeweller who has the ear of the captain-general and governor of the Philippines. Simoun turns out to be Ibarra, who made his fortune in Cuba helping the captain-general, and has now returned to wreak his revenge on those who wronged him and to tear down the whole corrupt, exploitative system. He seeks to enlist Basilio in his fight:
Don't put your hopes in them, put your hopes in yourselves and get to work. They deny you representation in the legislature? So much the better! Even if you succeed in sending your own elected representatives, what will they do there except be drowned out by so many other voices and by their presence appear to sanction the abuses and mistakes committed later on? The fewer  rights they give you now, the more you'll have later when you throw off the yoke and pay them back evil for evil. They want to teach you their language? Then cultivate your own, spread it, help the people hold onto their own way of thinking. Instead of aspirations by province, have aspirations as a nation. Instead of subordinated thoughts, have independent thought, because it's not by his laws  or his rights or his customs that the Spaniard considers this his home, nor should the people consider this the Spaniard's nation, but he should always be considered the invader and the foreigner. Then sooner or later you'll have your  freedom.
However, Basilio is  determined to remain apolitical. Nevertheless, events soon overtake him.

In addition to the main characters are a host of others, and Rizal takes fine satirical aim at the Spaniards, his countrymen and the Church in equal measure. An example of his wit comes early in Noli Me Tangere:
Toward the end of October, Don Santiago de los Santos, who was generally known as Captain Tiago, gave a dinner party that, despite its having been announced only that afternoon, which was not his usual practice, was the topic of every conversation in Binondo and neighbouring areas, and even as far as Intramuros. In those days,  Captain Tiago was considered the most liberal of men,  and it was known that the doors of his house, like those of his country, were closed to no one but tradesmen or perhaps a new or daring idea.
Both Noli Me Tangere / El Filibusterismo are filled with characters who are richly and wickedly described. We have Doña Victorina, a mixed-race woman who "spoke bad Spanish and was more Spanish than Agustina  de Zaragoza" and "looked with disdain on her many Filipino admirers" as "her aspirations lay in another race"; we have Fray Dámaso who speaks not a word of Tagalog but takes confessions from his local congregation not understanding what they are confessing; we have Captain Tiago who competes with Doña Patrocinio for who can give the grandest gifts to the Church: "on holy days, with her family's money, she hired the best orators from Manila's five seminaries, the cathedral's most famous canons, and even the Paulist fathers to preach on profound theological themes to sinners  who could only understand the language of the streets".

Comparing Noli Me Tangere / El Filibusterismo with their analogues in European literature (for example, Les Miserables) I for one found Rizal's work much more enjoyable. His writing is more trenchant and his wit more sly. For all the accusations of melodrama, his novel is much less saccharine than either Oliver Twist or Les Miserables. This is Les Miserables as written by Swift.
Profile Image for Jeri Massi.
Author 51 books83 followers
August 2, 2014
I picked up my Filipino friend's copy of this book one summer 20 years ago and was hooked on it almost at once. Bear in mind, I was born in Pennsylvania, and to my discredit, am aware only of a smattering of the history of the Philippines since WWII. I came into this book about the Philippines in the 1800's as a newcomer.

The novel is a bit operatic in its drama and caricature, but from what I understand, Rizal was trying to appeal to his countrymen. He definitely excoriates the Roman Catholic priests in the story. Yet, having recently read THE POWER AND THE GLORY, I cannot fault Rizal's presentation. The two primary villains of the novel are Padre Bernardo Salví and Padre Dámaso, both priests. Salvi is a man consumed by lust and greed, and Damaso is a power-obsessed oppressor of the weak, and a womanizer as well.

The main character, Ibbara, is a native of the Philippines. The story opens with him just returning from seven years in Europe, during which he has been educated. He has everything at the start of the story: education, wealth, and the lovely Maria Clara as his fiance. The first scene in which the two of them are reunited is very touching and sweet, but the reader realizes that the story is setting up Ibbara for a fall.

Over the course of the novel, the reader sees the Spanish-led establishment wear away at the good hearted and honorable Ibarra. In true operatic stye, tragedies keep occurring, and yet there is a ring of truth in all that Rizal is writing. The grandiosity of the plot is counterbalanced by some very witty passages, particularly those about the Spanish characters, and by a tone of determination to tell the story.

Rizal's novel had a unifying effect on his countrymen and was instrumental in the call to make the Philippines self-governing. Sadly, Rizal did not live to see its success. He was arrested and ultimately executed for sedition because of his writings.

The best reason for a non-Filipino reader to read this book is to learn about the heartbreak and cruelty of colonialism. It is engaging enough to hold attention, and the very real situation that the fiction represents is worth understanding.
Profile Image for Domhnall.
435 reviews329 followers
January 19, 2019
This is a very acceptable novel in the familiar 19th Century style, a tangled tale in which secrets are slowly exposed, characters lack crucial information until far too late, idealism and cynical reality clash brutally and tragically. The story-telling is excellent and the novel is interspersed – not randomly; they are stepping stones on the story’s path - with many beautifully constructed set pieces (as I think of them anyway: when the writer dips his pen deeply and takes time out across a number of pages to describe a conversation - often hilarious or ludicrous - , or an occasion – a festival, a formal dinner, or an eruption of brutal violence, or a cock fight - , or a scene of one type or another – a silent village, a forest, a river).

Like Dickens or Dumas (I think of the Count of Monte Christo), José Rizal paints an entire society by incorporating characters and stories at every level; indeed, from his account we can construct a rough impression of the way Philippine society was structured at that time, and the various instruments of control by which the Spanish secured their absolute mastery over the people. Important elements in their system were a vicious racism, a bullying Catholic Church, arbitrary civil and military powers, the daily intrusions to prevent education or development or enterprise or free thinking or even the basis for family and communal life and thus to maintain the oppression of a whole people.
5 reviews
April 27, 2008
Noli Me Tangere..."Touch me not"...Oh yeah, there's a lot of meaning into that. One of the best ways to know the true meaning behind this peculiar and odd title is to read the whole enervating book. But another way is to read the appendix at the back. Probably when you get the book, the first thing you do to keep you going on is to read the appendix first. I don't know with other versions but my version's got an appendix at the back, which includes Chapter "X". Going into the book, certainly, the first chapter will tire you out (okay, at least for me). Don't worry or panic or close the book or worse, lose hope...what you do, is go to the next chapter and go meet the main protagonist. Now, some things that might bore you in reading this book is Rizal's (the author) way of writing. There are times when he's like, "and he came entering the fields as the wind came by...noisy as the golden whispers of our land...it blows on to the dusty springs that awits him ahead......". But you just have to be considerate with Rizal, afterall, after those lengthy and elaborate descriptions come exciting and exhilarating scenes that really gets you to read on and on. Sigh...I don't know how to convince you further. I think that's all for now, but I soon will edit this review again in a more elaborate and persuading but interesting way.
Profile Image for Inkspill.
396 reviews38 followers
August 23, 2018
Our hero is an idealist, when he wakes up his world has changed dramatically.

How Rizal tells this story made it an enjoyable read. It has a large cast of characters that vary in temperament, and many light touches against the heavy drama. At the centre there is a poignant message – I won’t give it away and let you read this.

It’s a book I wouldn't mind reading again :)
Profile Image for Anjuli.
108 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2023
A Filipino Classic. Apparently you’re doing it right if you’re reading Rizal.

Rizal is an amazingly talented human-being! The way he writes proves that he is way ahead of his time. He fulfilled his role as a political activist. Rizal’s writing ignited a whole revolution.

Noli Me Tángere is so well-written. Rizal not only writes a captivating, beautifully-told story but he also manages to get key messaging across to his audience in such an impactful way. It is impressive.

The book does an amazing job unpacking the colonial legacy in Philippines. It sees through all the hypocrisy, the injustice, and the power struggles. The book paints religious institutions as power-hungry. Religion during the colonial era was used as a tool to reinforce the power of the church. It is so easy to abuse this power especially when there is no separation between the church and the state. It is always the vulnerable who pay the price and become collateral.

The colonial powers are so quick to apply their ‘ways of doing’ in the colonies that they often fail to recognize the societal differences whether it is culture, customs, traditions, language, etc. The cookie-cutter approach never works. As history shows, it has never worked out.

The role of education was an ongoing topic of conversation in this book. Education can be so powerful tool. Education done right could do so many wonders. But what happens when education is also used as a tool to reinforce problematic ideologies? Who dictates what’s taught in schools during the colonial era? Who has access? Is there room for critical thinking, new ideas, and freedom of speech?

Elías is my favourite. A rational, inspiring, and extremely likeable character. I really love what Elías represented as a whole. He was honourable and his devotion to his country was unparalleled. His ability to not let his painful circumstances, anger and resentment dictate his moves was really impressive to see. Elías never resorted to violence to solve his problems. He remained true to himself throughout the entirety of the novel. Ibarra was also likeable. He was coming from a place of privilege and I admired that he acknowledged his privilege. He was open to new ideas and thoughts. He had a hard time fathoming systemic change until he himself got subjected to alienation. But overall a very commendable character.

Also shout-out to my friends in my book club who consistently encourage me step outside my comfort zone to explore books I’d never think to. This was one of those for sure!


“I saw that in all cases the prosperity or unhappiness of nations is in direct proportion to their liberties and their problems, and, by that token, to the sacrifices or selfishness of their ancestors.”

“In countries where it cost much money and determination to make a leaf grow or a bud flower, and even those in other colonies, where withal the gardens were flourishing, well-tended, and open to the public.”

“They come here seeking gold; go you to their countries in search of the treasures we lack. But remember all that glitters is not gold”

“Always keep in mind,” he said between painful gasps, “that our power will last only as long as people believe in it.”

“In any case something would have been gained. The cornerstone would have been laid, the seed would have been sown. After the tempest some grain might perhaps sprout, survive the catastrophe, save the species from annihilation, and serve as grain seed for the children of the perished sower. ”

“Yes, if it is to do good, but not to do evil; yes, if it is to correct and improve, but not to destroy; because if his verdicts are wrong, he is powerless to undo the wrong he does.”

“I do not approve of the Franciscan’s action,” said another, “for religion should not be forced on anyone as a punishment or as a penance.”

“Reforms? In what sense?”
“For example, more respect for human dignity, greater security for the individual, less strength in the armed forces, less privileges for an organization which so easily abuses them.”

“So much power placed in human hands, the hands of ignorant and willful men, without moral training, without proven honesty, is a weapon placed in the hands of a madman let loose in an unarmed crowd.”

"Why shouldn't we do as that weak stem loaded with roses and buds?” asked the scholar, pointing to a beautiful rose bush. “The wind blows and shakes it and it bows down as if to hide its precious burden. If the stem were to stay straight it would break, and the wind would scatter the flowers, and the buds would die unopened. But the wind passes on and the stem straightens up again, proud of its treasure. Who will blame it for having bowed to necessity?"

“Because you can be happy elsewhere, because you are not made for suffering, because you would hate your country if some day you were to find yourself outcast for her sake, and to hate one’s own country is the greatest of misfortunes.”

“You are going to start a war, for you have money and brains, and will easily find many helping hands; unfortunately many are disconnected. But in this fight which you propose to start, the defenseless and the innocent will suffer most.”

“I die without seeing the sun rise on my country. You who are to see the dawn, welcome it, and do not forget those who fell during the night!”
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