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With Dusk (originally published in the Philippines as Po-on ), F. Sionil Jose begins his five-novel Rosales Saga, which the poet and critic Ricaredo Demetillo called "the first great Filipino novels written in English." Set in the 1880s, Dusk records the exile of a tenant family from its village and the new life it attempts to make in the small town of Rosales. Here commences the epic tale of a family unwillingly thrown into the turmoil of history. But this is more than a historical novel; it is also the eternal story of man's tortured search for true faith and the larger meaning of existence. Jose has achieved a fiction of extraordinary scope and passion, a book as meaningful to Philippine literature as One Hundred Years of Solitude is to Latin American literature.

"The foremost Filipino novelist in English, his novels deserve a much wider readership than the Philippines can offer."--Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books

"Tolstoy himself, not to mention Italo Svevo, would envy the author of this story."--Chicago Tribune

325 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1984

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About the author

F. Sionil José

59 books362 followers
Francisco Sionil José was born in 1924 in Pangasinan province and attended the public school in his hometown. He attended the University of Santo Tomas after World War II and in 1949, started his career in writing. Since then, his fiction has been published internationally and translated into several languages including his native Ilokano. He has been involved with the international cultural organizations, notably International P.E.N., the world association of poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists whose Philippine Center he founded in 1958.

F. Sionil José, the Philippines' most widely translated author, is known best for his epic work, the Rosales saga - five novels encompassing a hundred years of Philippine history - a vivid documentary of Filipino life.

In 1980, Sionil José received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.

In 2001, Sionil José was named National Artist for Literature.

In 2004, Sionil José received the Pablo Neruda Centennial Award.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,681 followers
November 22, 2018
“No stranger can come battering down my door and say he brings me light. This I have within me.”

The white man cometh and he brings salvation – religion, organized government, education, culture. But under the blanket statement of “salvation” is its shadow - exploitation – of natural resources, of manpower, of freedom. What a nation/region will naturally develop in time is accelerated tenfold but with sudden growth comes the dependency to this unnatural and unsustainable support christened as the plague of imperialism.

Imperialism is a rich source material for any budding writer outside of Europe and the United States. Depending on a native writer’s inclinations it brings either a mixed bag or absolute ruin. In the case of F. Sionil Jose, it is the former, the Filipinas owing its faith and education to the haughty Spaniards and the smug Americans notwithstanding the slow decay they bring about. But then again he is a tarnished commentator on the matter since this work was written in Europe enabled by an American grant.

This would be, in the opinion of most literary critics in the Philippines, the prime candidate for the greatest English language novel to come out of the country.

F. Sionil Jose’s novel is divided into two halves. The first one - the Exodus of an innocent people out of Spanish authority into the wilderness of independence, the second – the awakening of an individual to his patriotic duty, the entirety - the metamorphosis of a divided parts wrought in apostolic servitude into the early smoldering of what would be a nation ablaze.

Eustaquio ‘Istak’ Salvador is a young acolyte bright and curious. Intelligent, he captures the attention of progressive Father Jose who takes him as a pupil. However his skin is dark and thus cannot enter the seminary based on his birth as a lowly native. His aspirations are crushed and brought underfoot like a moth engulfed by its own attraction to a flame. His subsequent progression from a faithful servant, into an outlaw, a nomadic Moses, a hopeless farmer, a proud father, a community leader, and later on a patriot is representative of the cyclic birth of a divided people under one land.

“A nation which has people who can think, that nation already has strength.”

Istak - young, innocent, impressionable - was shackled with the flawed chains of Imperial Catholicism. But he broke free with the self-realized insight that Faith springs not from stalwart institutions but the unified belief of nameless men towards a just cause no matter the skin color or birth.

It is quite curious that only a few novels worthy of attention come out of a long colonized country that was already literate long before its Asian neighbors and counterparts were. Furthermore since it is a country that prides itself in the mastery of the English language. Perhaps the brand of education it was taught was to be subservient rather than subversive, an education that teaches conformity rather than critical thinking. Alas, this produced a nation of readers instead of a nation of writers. Even in literature they have created consumers, not competitors in the industry. But with the slow awakening of a culled people, maybe a superior novel shall be birthed in the near future.

Dusk illustrates the awakening consciousness of a nation and its clamoring for self-growth. It is like the feeling of longing for the warm healthy rays of the early morning sun after a night bathed in artificial light.

Bask in its glow.

Contemplate as the sun rises in a seven thousand-strong island nation.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 27, 2011
Francisco Sionil Jose (born 1942) is the Philippines' bet for Nobel Prize for Literature. He is one of the widely known Filipino novelists using English. His contemporaries are now either dead or have stopped writing so their books are no longer sold at the mainstream bookstores in the country. However, the books of F. Sionil Jose still sell like hotcakes occupying the eye-level shelves and competing for space with those books of the much younger novelists.

Dusk (or "Po-on" whenever published in the Philippines) is the first book of F. Sionil Jose's The Rosales Saga. There are 5 books in the series but F. Sionil Jose says that each of the book can be read independently. They are all set mainly in Rosales, a town in Pangasinan, where F. Sionil was born and where he also grew up. The series is said to be an allegory for the Filipinos in search of their true identity.

Dusk tells the life of Eustaquio "Istak" Salvador or simply Istak Samson (he changes his surname when he and his family go to hiding) who works in the parish run by a Spanish friar during the late nineteenth century in Northern Philippines. The friar is good to young Istak and takes care of him like his own son: he teaches him how to pray, heal sickness, write and speak Spanish and Latin and how to assist during the Holy Mass. The friar goes old and so he thinks that Istak should be sent to Laoag seminary to become a priest. However, this is during the Spanish occupation and indios (that's how Spaniards call Filipinos during that time) are not allowed to become priests so Istak, now 21 y/o, has to go back to his family and help in his family's farm. Istak's father begs the new priest to send his son to the seminary and while they are arguing, Istak's father kills the priest. The story continues with the whole family escaping like fugitives and afraid of encountering mga tulisan (local terrorists), Spanish armies or even American soldiers (since at the later part of the story, Spain ceded Philippines to American by the virtue of 1989 Treaty of Paris).

The exodus of the family reminded me of John Steinbeck's Joad family in his opus The Grapes of Wrath because of the death, sickness and danger that lurked during the whole journey. The local setting with the people believing in spirits, superstitions mixed with Catholic practices reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Days of Solitude (Book 1 itself covers 20-30 years). They say that the series has its epic grandeur that one will feel after finishing all the 5 books that can remind one of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. At least for the first book, the prose is lucid and tells the story straight from his heart (he is a Filipino who comes from that part of the country). J. Sionil Jose's effort in researching the details covered in this book is astounding. The opening letter seems authentic and the language used throughout the novel is consistent and amusing.

My favorite part are the appearances of the two well-known and beloved figures in Philippine history. I will not tell you who are they as I have a feeling that F. Sionil Jose used them as a come-on for this first book (btw, my brother has told me that this is the only book worth reading in the series). Imagine those two characters talking and moving in your imagination while reading the book. At least for one of them, I have not seen a movie about his life and even a footage of his pictures on TV. I used to see him only on a peso bill (I forgot on what denomination).

Fantastic book.
Profile Image for Frankh.
845 reviews160 followers
February 24, 2016
I don't know why I waited this long to read this book.

I've bought my copy a week before I met F. Sionil Jose himself in the Cavite Young Writers event back in 2010. He recognized my surname and knew how to spell it, which doesn't happen often since my twelve-lettered surname is an uncommon Spanish last name. For a man who is almost ninety, his memory was astounding. Though I haven't read his works at that time, I knew of his legacy, and the excitement and anxiety at that moment upon meeting a national icon were palpable and overpowering. I thought I was going to have a panic attack right there.

Here I am three years later after that fateful day, and I finally started reading the first book of his critically-acclaimed Rosales Saga, Po-On. The series itself follows different protagonists for each novel, but the stories of the five books are interrelated across chronological boundaries.

Set in the Philippines during its most notable and tumultuous times, F. Sionil Jose takes us into the heart of the common Filipino man, who has yet to establish a clear national identity. The best thing about his books is that they are written in English, which is the language of my soul. That's a good thing too, I guess, since it's arguable that most readers of my generation in the country are more used to reading English novels after all, so Po-On will be more than accessible to them, not to mention it's affordable (under 300 bucks).

Po-On is an important book not just because it has international recognition and because it's a historical fiction about our country. As a work of literature itself, this was an impressive achievement. F. Sionil Jose's stylistic language is distinct, and the quality of his prose is straightforward without the need for extravagant verbosity. In Po-On, the central figure his Eustaqio "Istak" Salvador, a promising acolyte who idolized a Spanish priest as his mentor. His prominent characteristic is that he's an educated man, a rare accomplishment for an "indio", let alone an Ilokano, who are considered to be mere docile farmers. His parents and two brothers were also significant players in the plot, as well as the elusive and admirable Dalin who became his wife later on.

Driven away from their lands, the Salvador family, together with their relatives (because extended families are still considered to be of close ties for your typical Filipino) traveled across mountains and forests in search for a new place to call home. My favorite thing about Po-On is that it's rife with religious allusions, particularly on the Old Testament accounts of the Book of Exodus. There is a sublime connection between the plight and cavalry of the Salvador family with that of Moses and the Israelites. There were many instances of parallelism between them, and they are the most heartbreaking moments of the book. Their new home "Cabugawan" might as well have been the "promised land" for these Ilokanos.

Another beautiful aspect of Po-On is Istak's constant struggle to define his faith within and outside the context of the Catholic Church's influence. He's always torn between his loyalty to his family and his people, and the values he had learned from his late Spanish mentor. The book is divided into two parts; the first part was the exodus while the second one was about the upcoming final war between the Spaniards and the new colonists, the Americans. Istak meets historical figures, Emilio Jacinto, Apolinario Mabini and Gregorio Del Pilar. His interactions with these men are striking and heartfelt.

Through Istak's character, we became acquainted with ourselves. The Filipino then and the Filipino now are still similar; we are creatures who aspire for greatness but remain a race divided. Istak's general apathy about the war-torn situations of the country then can still speak to our own inner conflicts. But once his life was touched by these remarkable, patriotic men willing to fight and die for independence, Istak himself has found the courage to do his part, as small as it may be. Mabini, fondly called as the Cripple in the book, rationalized why it's difficult to unite his countrymen. We identify more as Ilokanos, or Tagalogs, or Batangeños instead of one Filipino nation. Once Istak embraced that he doesn't simply belong to his family but to a higher, nobler purpose, he took up arms with the rest of the outnumbered soldiers led by General Del Pilar against the Americans, in the memorable battle of Mount Tirad.

There are many instances in this book that made me tear up in spite of myself. I realized that this is an important work, and it saddens me that it only has 40 ratings (including my own) here in Goodreads. We should all pick up the Rosales Saga because F. Sionil Jose is a prolific artist who dedicated his lifetime in writing us these books so our generation and the next can read and see their lives in the pages. This is a book of great importance and will definitely give you a sense of national pride like you have never felt before.



"Evil is often a creation of our minds. It starts as a spark and then it is fanned into a fire, self-willed and self-sustaining. That is not to say there are no evil men, but our best protection against them is our innocence and our truth"

"No stranger can come battering down my door and say he brings me light. This I have within me."

"There was no measure for love of country except in sacrifice, and why ask the poor for more sacrifices? It was the comfortable, the rich, who should express it with their wealth. The poor had only their lives to give."

"He was valuable to them--teacher, healer, patriarch, but now he realized with seeing sharpness that they were valuable to him not just as cousins and neighbors--they were the earth, the water, the air which sustained him."

"Duty comes in many forms; at times duty to country can be conflict with duty to family. But in the end, duty becomes but one, and that is duty to value justice above everything--to do what is right not because someone ordains it, but because the heart which is the seat of truth decrees it."

"I have been blinded, as many of us have been blinded by our needs. I had thought only of my family--this was the limit to my responsibility and therefore my vision."

"The whole history of mankind has shown how faith endures while steel rusts."

Profile Image for Chibivy.
137 reviews50 followers
March 22, 2013
This is a beautiful piece of Philippine literature!

Before reading Po-on, I haven’t really heard who F. Sionil Jose was. This was his first work that I’ve read, and based in this book, I could say that he truly deserve the Philippines’ National Artist for Literature in 2001 award. Written in English language, the prose was executed fluidly and articulately. The settings were carefully described, painting a vivid picture in the imagination of the readers; while each scene stirred a lot of emotions from me.

The novel encompasses the story of Eustaquio “Istak” Salvador and the injustices that had befallen to his family. However, their miseries also mirrored the experiences of the early Filipinos (whom they called “Indios”) in the hands of foreign colonizers. The Spaniards were the ones who introduced Catholicism to the country, and yet these so-called “men of God” handled power ruthlessly. They treated men indifferently because Spaniards deemed them as stupid and incapable to learn; while they treated women like rags who could sate their carnal desires. Spaniards believed that early Filipinos were “inferior” to them because of the natives’ brown skin, flat nose, and short stature. Admittedly, there were those like Padre Jose who treated the Indios appropriately and believed in the capabilities; but most were ethnocentric people who used their “God-given power” as a tool to oppress the rights of minority.

Po-on tackled several social issues that not only happened in the colonial era, but also manifested in the present time. Injustice still prevails today, and there is still this social hierarchy which discriminates individuals because of their status. Education is still a privilege of a few, and because of that illiterate persons are easily manipulated by the oppressive system. Most of all, we as a people still struggle in our national unity. More than a century had passed since the declaration of our independence; and yet, are we truly free?

The characters were beautifully developed, and I really liked Istak. However, my favorite in the novel was Dalin. I greatly admire this woman of resilience and strength who had braved the storms that passed in her life. Her unwavering dedication had served as Istak’s source of strength in times of perils, and she was like his beacon of light.

Po-on demonstrates different faces of love—love for country, love for family, love for friends and comrades, and romantic love for a special person. During the entirety of the time I read the novel, I have gone through a roller coaster of emotions and reflections. It was a poignant story that touches the heart, while enlivening a Filipino’s nationalistic feelings. I believe this is an excellent novel to discuss inside the classroom, for such piece of literature could shape the young minds of the students to love the Philippines more.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
May 30, 2021
I live in Singapore and during the 70s and 80s, when Marcos ruled the Philippines as the Americans' pet military dictator, many of the domestic helpers that came to work here were Filipino. Even today, remittances back to the Philippines remain one of the key drivers of the Philippine economy. My family did not have a Filipino domestic helper but I wonder how many families that did knew of the torture and killing suffered by the Filipino population under the Marcoses, and the history of colonial and Western subjugation and exploitation that these peoples had undergone. Sionil's saga deals with this history through the eyes of one family and it was hard going, very hard going, because of the despair that suffuses the majority of the works that make it up.

Sionil is, in his own words, not a communist. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an Indonesian writer who also struggled against an American supported military dictator who killed hundreds of thousands if not millions of his own people with CIA complicity and support, was asked by Western journalists upon his release from an Indonesian concentration camp, "Are you a communist?". He replied, "If to be communist means being concerned about the suffering of the poor, then yes you can call me a communist."

I think Sionil would be of the same view and each of his works in this saga deal with the lot of the Filipino poor and the struggle to throw off the shackles of their oppressors, whether they are the Spanish, the Americans, or the wealthy mestizo oligarchy that ends up running the Philippines. The emotional and ethical conflict between remaining poor but honest and being bribed to collude with wealthy make up the heart of the struggles in this novel, both on an individual and societal level. In all of them, what comes across is his deep intimate knowledge of poverty and struggle, and his refusal to romanticise it and the poor. There is a great line in the final novel of the saga, Mass, spoken by Ka Lucio, an old revolutionary who had been tortured but not killed:
"Do you know what freedom is, Pepe? Again, this is not a philosophical question."

"Free speech," I said, "free elections, free assembly, free worship."

Ka Lucio shook his head. He placed his right hand over his breast. "It is here, Pepe," he said. "This is where it lives. And once it is dead here, no slogan, no demonstration, no ideology, no revolution can ever bring it back to life. And to the people, it is not free speech. It is clothing, food, shelter, medicine for the children when they are ill. Education ... not a degree from UP or Ateneo; just the simple kind that will enable them to get jobs."
This last novel finally breaks free of the despair that so infuse, especially My Brother, My Executioner (Book 3) and The Pretenders (Book 4). Sadly, however, as much as Mass was written with hope -- for within a few short years after its publication, the Marcos dictatorship would fall and the man and his wife would be granted refuge by his American bosses in Hawaii -- he ends his Afterword to this work with this sad line: "...looking around me, at the debris of our youthful dreams, the old man that I have become knows now the futility of words."

His words might indeed have been futile but read them anyway. I cannot recommend this work enough.
Profile Image for Raechella.
97 reviews26 followers
July 24, 2014
Foremost book in the five-part Rosales Saga (but last to be published) by the Philippine National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil JosePo-on embraces an air of nationalism and gushes with an autonomous aspiration from the long oppressed Filipinos. Istak’s mere fabricated globe recounts the factual—though not concrete—burden the Filipinos has been subjected to throughout the tyranny of the Spaniards, and shortly under the regime of the Americans. Jose’s guileless yet lyrical prose, with his clear-cut exhibition of the backdrop and episodes of confrontations, promises a picturesque panorama of the Salvador’s (later Samson) expeditions and misadventures, along with an inexplicable feeling of patriotism hovering over the pages.

It isn’t so hard to penetrate into the lives of the indios (as Spaniards call the Filipinos) since the distinct attributes of the characters are very well manifested until today. A Filipino himself, Jose did not—in any way—commit any biasness towards the Filipinos. Istak’s resolute faith to a divine entity makes him an epitome of righteousness but his inadvertent fascination towards women makes him a flawed being nonetheless. Ba-ac’s sulkiness at the onset of the story creates a disagreeable impression on his part but discovering the reason behind his severed hand gives him redemption even so. And then there were the Filipino traitors who recoiled from their resistance to favor the enemy’s cause—not to mention the “tulisans” who oppress their own kindred.

Nor did Jose set any prejudices against our foreign aggressors. Albeit the ruthless governance of the Spaniards—along with the Church’s iniquitous exploits—particular individuals however were designed to project an upright disposition towards the Filipinos. Such person is Padre Jose—Istak’s mentor and father-like figure. He serves as a remembrance that goodness comes from any race, however deplorable the majority are.

I’ve never really been a patriotic individual—save for my occasional remarks about the country’s involvement in various issues—but plunging deeper into F. Sionil Jose’s engaging narrative and beautiful prose, one cannot be helped but to be terribly perturbed by the maelstrom of emotions compellingly swirling on every page. I literally felt a searing pain in my chest the moment I flipped the final page, specifically because of Istak’s last notation from his journal. We own our country, we own our resources, and we own ourselves. But why are these aliens gaining from our possessions? They hold in great awe our majestic resources and obtain an unlimited supply of opportunities from these, but degrading with its unsightly attributes. Are they here to praise or to demean us?

An insensible citizen now a compassionate native of my country—Po-on has shaped my newfound love for my motherland.
Profile Image for Josephine.
Author 4 books79 followers
April 4, 2013
My five-star rating for Po-on isn't because of the plot. You read something like this [something about power, murders, violence, poverty, etc.] too many times the story gets old too fast. But, he was able to get to the bottom of it: why the Philippines is such a disjointed country that it is now.

It's because of self-preservation.

Why did an idealist like Istak who was persevering--[getting up at such an early hour everyday to toll the bells of the church, do the chores in the sacristy, diligently reading and studying Spanish and Latin... all the while believing he was doing this for God and the country because he was the "chosen one..."] would change his tune ten years or so afterward? Why would he not care about the country anymore and its people that he wanted to serve and say that he had to think of his clan/family first? That he was nothing but a mere farmer?

It was because of self-preservation. Because where were the others when his father was being tortured? When their village was being burned? Being pillaged? Or when his brother An-no was being taken? The list is endless, and no one came forward to help... all the while, some of the "chosen ones" were aiding their oppressors... when they were supposedly helping their own countrymen. So why would Istak want to help others? They were never really helped in the first place except by Don Jacinto for whom he would run an errand for later on and would only do so at first out of gratitude.

Why would the young general not believe Istak when he delivered the message? It was because he had seen betrayal way too many times he would rather not risk receiving help from someone even if this someone else was his compatriot. After all, if he placed his trust into the hands of the wrong person, it would cost him his life and the lives of their men.

To this day, such things still happen. Why would you help other people when no one helped you when you were in dire need? Or why would you help others if sometimes "ikaw pa ang lalabas na masama?"

Out of pain, fear, and distrust, Kanya-kanya syndrome was born and it will forever persist if left alone.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
489 reviews36 followers
January 20, 2017
Reminiscent of "The Red Badge of Courage", with the young man finding his courage in battle, except that in the case of "Dusk", the protagonist Istak is already the head of a family, a skilled healer, and carrying a letter from one of the key intellectuals of the Filipino rebellion to its President. Oh, and in this case the blue coats are the enemy--for those rusty on their Filipino history, the American military entered the colony to overthrow its Spanish masters and then replaced them. Jose is not a psychological novelist; here, loyalty to family and nation, and the duty to defend them even to the point of sacrificing one's life, are paramount. Istak is complex in that, for someone from an impoverished, he has obtained an education in the service of the local priest, learning to read and speak Latin in Spanish in addition to his native Ilocano. His family is displaced and he is thrust into leadership by that learning and the death of his mother and his impulsive father. He does not question what is the right thing to do, only his ability to achieve it. Jose's portrait of the Philippines of the time reveals the patchwork of languages, ethnicities and cultures, some of which defend their territory violently. The occupiers, Spaniards and Americans, are more violent, meting out execution and rape reflexively, to steal and overpower. The most compelling character of the novel is Jose's fictionalization of the real Apolinario Mabini, the intellectual of the movement who has been ousted from the Filipino government fleeing from the American army. Istak and his wife (whom he characteristically rescues after a Spaniard attack and who Jose makes with clear intention a woman from another group) are less complicated people; they think in terms of what is most important and express the values that inform their decisions with clarity. Somehow, perhaps because of what they face--violence, persecution, war, disease--that simplicity of purpose and action does not make the novel itself simple.
Profile Image for Maria Ella.
506 reviews79 followers
August 15, 2014
There is something in the way F. Sionil Jose narrates stories of the setting in which a Manileña like me, was able to reflect to the daily lifestyle and random situations of the Samsons (previously Salvadors) on their exodus from Cabunaw to Bo. Cabunawanan, Rosales, Pangasinan. It is more of touching your heart not only as a reader, but also your nationalistic soul as a Filipino. :)

I was impressed in the structure of the novel - it has two viewpoints: the narrator, while elaborating the adventures of the characters, and the conscience of the protagonist named Istak. I was also in awe on how the author started and ended the novel with a correspondence, seemingly like an open letter to any reader of the changing times - from the time of oppression, to the time of the revolution.

It was sad that the end left hanging, especially on Dalin's side. Though we all know that she learned about the noble duty of Istak, the aftermath of the war on Pasong Tirad is not told, however we have been hinted that the American has plans to visit the family and surrender the journal. :)

This is definitely a goodread.
Profile Image for Rise.
298 reviews31 followers
February 10, 2013

F. Sionil José's re-imagined community

Po-on (1984, also published as Dusk) is the first chronological part of Filipino novelist F. Sionil José's epic story consisting of five volumes and collectively known as the Rosales saga. It is a historical and political novel set in Luzon Island during the last days of Spanish rule in the Philippines in late 19th century up to the entry of American imperialists. It traces the southward journey of an extended family evicted from their homes by Spanish authorities. The Salvador family's journey is marked by indescribable hardship. It also depicts the enduring character of small peoples and their continuing struggle against colonial powers (Spanish and American) and greedy landowners.

The novel is written in spare, transparent, and direct prose, devoid of any flourishes yet lyrical nonetheless. F. Sionil José is persistently spoken of as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. That he hasn't won yet may be explained by the fact that he is not what one would usually consider a prose stylist and that his novels are sometimes weighed down by their political themes. Among Filipino novelists in the English language (those that I've read so far), the late Nick Joaquín and N. V. M. Gonzalez are arguably better writers than him. Even so, his engagement with questions of national identity and social justice makes him a novelist worth reading. His aesthetic can best be summed up by the words of Apolinario Mabini, one of the novel's pivotal historical characters:

"Remember, Eustaquio, these are curtains to a window. And the words are themselves the window. First, the writing must be neat but not ornate for if I wanted beautiful letters, then I would have nothing but a page of the alphabet in ornate lettering. The Chinese consider calligraphy as an art form and it could be beautiful, but attention, as tradition demands, is drawn to the shape of the characters themselves. Great calligraphers are, therefore, great poets, too. But you are not Chinese. Words should not hinder the expression of thought unless one is expressing poetry. I am not writing poetry; I am writing to convince people of the validity of our struggle, its righteousness, and the utter fallacy and hypocrisy of the Americans in saying we are not capable of self-government."

"But you are not Chinese", Mabini emphasized to Eustaquio (Istak), the novel's protagonist. "You are Filipino", he was implying.

Here I'm reminded of the final scene of the 1976 film Ganito Kami Noon ... Paano Kayo Ngayon? (This Is How We Were ... How Are You Now?), directed by Eddie Romero. The main character Nicolas "Kulas" Ocampo (played by Christopher de Leon) encountered a group of children sitting in the midst of ruined shelters of Filipino revolutionaries. He told them, after they related what happened: "Tandaan nyo ito ha: Pilipino rin kayo" ("Remember this: you are also Filipinos").

I'm looking at the Wikipedia page of the film and I think its synopsis could very well describe Sionil José's novel.

Set at the turn of the 20th century during the Filipino revolution against the Spaniards and, later, the American colonizers, it follows a naïve peasant through his leap of faith to become a member of an imagined community.

At present I'm reading an influential book by the scholar and historian Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983, rev. ed. 1991). "Imagined community" is the definition Anderson gave for a nation (excerpt):

[A nation] is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion....

The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind....

It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm....

Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.

I am quoting Anderson's definition at length because I think that "nationalism" is the underlying theme of the novel (and the whole Rosales saga) and consequently a robust framework in which to approach it. (Any investigation of national literatures will, I think, benefit from Anderson's ideas in his book.) Po-on is published just a year after Anderson's book came out, and yet the elements of a nation (imagined, community, limited, sovereign) are well integrated into the story.

The idea of sovereignty and self-government, for example, is evident from the first quoted passage. In addition, the imagination of national (territorial) boundaries can be seen in another passage in the novel, the words of Mabini again, replying to Istak's question on why he must care for this "nameless mass" Mabini calls Filipinas and for the people not even related to him:

"If there is no country as such or as you know and recognize, then in your mind you must give it its boundaries. Do this because without this country you are nothing. This land where you stand, from which you draw your sustenance, is the Mother you deny. It's to her where your thoughts will go even if you refuse to think so, for it is here where you were born, where your loved ones live, and where in all probability you will all die. We will love her, protect her, all of us—Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, so many islands, so many tribes—because if we act as one, we will be strong and so will she be. Alone, you will fall prey to every marauder that passes by. I am not asking that you love Filipinas. I am asking that you do what is right, what is duty ..." [emphasis added]

The same hopeful leap from regionalism (Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, etc.) to nationalism marks the ending of Ganito Kami Noon ... Paano Kayo Ngayon? It's not surprising then that these re-imagining of a national community earned for the novelist, as well as the filmmaker, the honor of being elected a "National Artist".

Also posted in my blog.
Profile Image for Ayban Gabriyel.
61 reviews59 followers
November 15, 2011
Na-score ko 'tong librong ito one time sa NBS Bicutan, natsempuhang naka-sale. 100 pesos, kaya dampot agad punta sa counter para magbayad. Grabe galak at tuwa ko nun, dahil gusto kong mabasa ang Po-on at eto na nga ang tumambad sa harap ko, Po-on ni Sionil ang nakakatuwa pa, ung translated berso sa Filipino. Isang bagay lang ang nakakalungkot sa librong ito, medyo nagdedeteriorate na ang mga pahina, kumakawala na sila sa pagkakabind, kaya pala nakasale. Para hindi naman masayang ang librong ito, ginawan ko sya nang paraan tulad ng paggawa ko ng paraan sa mga lumang librong meron ako na inooperahan ko ang nilalagyan ng staple ang mga gilid ng binding, napagisip-isip ko sa susunod ung staple na de-baril na ang gagamitin ko para kumagat sa bawat pahina nito.

Balik tayo sa libro, ang bersyon ng librong ito ay salin sa Filipino ni Lilia Antonio isang manunula at essayist. Propesor ng Foriegn Studies sa Osaka Japan.

Ang Po-on unang libro sa tinaguriang Rosales Saga, limang konektadong libro na nilikha ng Natl Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose. Ang limang libro ay konektado sa isa't isa, ngunit maari raw basahin ng magkakahiwalay o kahit hindi sunudsunod. Sinasabi rin ng iba na ang Po-on ang pinaka magandang nobela sa lima, at sabi nila parang tinamad na si Sionil sa apat na kasunod na nobela. Hindi ko panapapatunayan ito sa aking sarili dahil hindi ko pa nababasa ang apat na iba pang nobela, pero totoong naganda ako sa unang nobela ng rosales saga kahit pa ito ay naisalin na sa wikang Filipino. Minsan iniisip ko nga kung binasa ko ito sa Ingles mas magandahan kaya ako? Dahil syempre, hindi naman eksakto o perpekto sa perspektibo ni Sionil sa pagsalin ni Lilia. Ngunit gayon pa man, hindi nabawasan para sa akin ang ganda ng libro.

Ang libro ay tumatalakay sa isang pamayanan na ngalan ay Po-on at ang pamilya nila Estaqio Salvador na lumikas mula norte papuntang lambak pero nakita ang lugar nila sa Rosales, Pangasinan. Dito sila nagsimula muli ng bagong pamayanan na tinawag nilang Cabugawan. Ang istorya ng Po-on ay umiikot sa pamilya ni Estaqio o mas kilalang Istak, isang dating sakristan na pinangarap maging pari ngunit na udlot na may dumating na bagong pari at pina balik sya sa Po-on nang malaman ni Istak nang hindi sinasadya ang pagabuso nito sa isang dalaga. (spoiler!) At naging sukdulan ang lahat ng hindi sinasadyang mapatay ng ama ni Istak ang bagong pari. Dun nagsimula ang kanilang paglalakbay papuntang timog. Kung saan kailangan muli nilang magsimula sa wala. Magnakaw ng bukid sa kagubatan at hawan ang mga lupa upang maging bukid. Naging manggagamot si Istak kanilang maliit na bayan, marami syang nalalaman. Ito'y dahil na rin sa kanyang karanasan sa sakritiya at mga natutunan mula sa matandang pari na si Padre Jose na tinuturing niyang guro at mabait na prayle. Hangang sa dumating ang mga bagong mananakop, dumating ang mga Amerikano. At dito na nga lumabas ang dalawang kilalang bayani ng ating bansa, pero tulad ng ibang rebyu dito, hindi ko sasabihin kung sino sila. Pero sa bandang huli ng libro dito kung saan sila lalabas, magiging nakapaka interesante at baka tapusin mo na at hindi bitawan tulad nagawa ko. haha!

Teka-teka, may napansin lang ako sa librong ito, muntik na syang maging botany book! :D Bakit? Kung babalikan mo napakaraming halaman at puno ang sinambit sa librong ito. Nariyan ang Dalipawen, Alibangbang, Banaba, Bayabas, Saging, Papaya, Tatlong uri ng Kawayan, Kamote, Kalamansi, Palay, Tabaco, Madre de Cacao, Balete at atbp. Haha!

Ngayon bago ko basahin ang pangalawang libro mula sa Rosales Saga, gusto ko munang basahin ang Po-on sa orihinal na lenggwaheng pagkakasulat nito, sa Ingles. Tingin ko mas magugustuhan ko ito. Sana mabasa nyo ang librong ito. :D
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,989 reviews699 followers
December 9, 2019
Another grand, mid-century postcolonial novel, told over multiple volumes, and a relic of a more optimistic and humanist time, when nations were decolonizing and the white liberals who applauded them wore horn-rimmed glasses and smoked pipes and talked seriously about Erich Fromm and the human family. Not too different from what Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Chinua Achebe, and the like were doing at the same time.

Like so many of those novels, it features a solitary Universal Man of the colonial world, educated enough to know the world, but rooted in the miseries and sufferings of his people, and he has a struggle, and a quest, and a fate. You've likely seen these themes before (if you're a Yank like me, you experienced it when you first read Steinbeck), but that doesn't mean it's not a good story -- I admire the optimism and humanism of the era, and the earnestness, intelligence, and confidence of its postcolonial writers, especially living in a time when writers seem, by and large, to bury their heads in the sand.
Profile Image for Ben.
95 reviews20 followers
June 27, 2015
Written by F. Sionil Jose, Po-on is one of the novels in the 5-book series "The Rosales Saga". Chronoligically, it's the first in the series but the last to be written. It tells the story of a poor Ilocano clan in their little exodus from Ilokos to Pangasinan, how they struggle to to travel with a handful of carts while a group of Spanish guards are hunting them down, how they go through a series of unfortunate events as they search for a land to settle. It's a well-developed historical fiction that depicts the Filipinos' inconvient lives under the Spanish rule.

Po-on is a masterly piece of work. It's not a book translated in English but it was written originally in English by Sionil himself who happens to be a native Filipino speaker.

The virtue of patience was all I needed to finish the book. And while I was reading it, at one point I felt a pang of annoyance with myself because the more I read the book, the more I realized how dumb I am on the history of my own country. However dumb I am on the subject, I was still able to get myself into the scenes, relate to the characters and get to feel the emotions of this intelligent book as if it has its own mind and heart. Well, that's how brilliant the author is. He captures not only the hearts of the intelligent but also the hearts of the dumb.

The story is realistic as much as the characters are believable. Istak is a character created out of a genius' mind. I liked it when the author used two opposing ideas to battle in Istak's self, to define such character of depth and complexity. The storytelling is as effective as the ones done by the native English-speaking authors. It takes you to places and times while letting you use your five senses so as to realize how vivid the scenes are.

(This may sound cheesy.) It's an honor to have read this book and to get a chance to read the other four in the series.
Profile Image for Betty.
406 reviews47 followers
May 9, 2015
This was an exciting story in itself about a Filipino farmer. It's his story from boyhood to way into adulthood, taking years to build security for his family. The security nevertheless is tenuous, not only from the vicissitudes of seasonal weather and plague, but also how distant his village can remain from the colonial government, from the revolutionaries, and from the new advance of foreign colonizers. Besides the tangible events of his life, Eustaquio, or Istak, is more than a manual laborer. As a boy he learned Spanish and Latin, read the ancient authors, and studied botanical healing and other subjects. Istak's meditative perspective on everything gives the book its interest, and his consideration of unanswerable questions related to fate, duty, knowledge guide the story. His consciousness about events outside his community broadens so that he must evaluate the conflicting views he has learned from the knowledge imparted by his early teacher Padre José and from the words of the revolutionary Apolinario Mabini. Besides the growth in consciousness of the main character, the story imparts a wonderful flavor of the natural features of Luzon.
Profile Image for Joe.
Author 18 books80 followers
October 31, 2007
So yeah, there's a lot of heavy handed rhetoric in this book--that's to be expected. It's TRYING to be a national book and all. But really, it was about 100 pages too short. I want my epics about national identity, duty and resistance to feel epic. You know?
Profile Image for Patrick.
563 reviews
September 12, 2012
Jose does a very good job examining how a common man is awakened to partake in his duty toward his country. He also does an excellent job describing the sensual yearnings of physical and later emotional love.

The church becomes corrupt when they begin to take charge of temporal matters as what happened in the Philippines during the Spanish colonization when the priests were the de facto temporal rulers and the guards were merely enforces of the law. Having church and state married to the Spanish crown, I can understand the reason protestants stress faith alone as the way to salvation because of the issue of indulgence which is basically a bribe to go to heaven, thus reinforcing the issue of corruption in the Spanish rule. Also having a priest having temporal rule makes one beholden to personality instead of the rule of law. Spanish imperialism was different from American imperialism because the former want to rule their subjects forever while the latter want to teach self-rule so Americans can eventually leave. I do not know how effective forced rule is in establishing democracy abroad since corruption still reigns in countries in which America attempts to transplant modern democracy such as the Philippines, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Unlike the cold-hearted new priest who fornicates with his students, Padre Jose implores the Archbishop to educate the poor so when the time comes they can lead themselves with Spanish institutions fully engrained in their spirit. The good thing about missionaries/churches is that they were the early education centers as can be seen in the US in the ivy's which started out as seminaries for preachers. Istak wanted to become a priest in order to bring prominence and a better life to his families. For poor people, the priesthood is really the only way out of a life of poverty. Unfortunately for Istak, he realizes he is attracted to women too much to tied to the prison of celibacy. A man of learning and of honor, he does not like to be a hypocrite like the young priest who fornicates with his pupil. After Istak saw the priest fornication, he was no longer favored by the priest and thus he hit the glass ceiling and was not only fired but he and his family were kicked off the family farm.

His father Ba-ak pleaded for their family to stay in Po-on but the cold-hearted priest who cut off his father's hand for "stealing", did not want to reconsider since he considered them second class citizens (just like some white Americans consider new immigrants and minorities to be second class citizens in the US) and hit him; thus Ba-ak murdered the young priest. From that moment on they became fugitives in search for a new land, the Filipino version of homesteaders. From this experience, Istak wonders if Padre Jose extortions that man's suffering is a means to grow faith and thus redemption is true. Istak being a loyal member of the Catholic church and the Spanish crown could not believe he was shot without trial.

The issue of converting people religiously by the sword is that sooner or later people will associate with the sword and will resent the harbingers of its influence (what happened to the tenant farmers) or join it as the only way to gain power (the reason for poor people to want to become priest b/c they live a better life than their fellow poor people). Istak is conflicted by what Castilian civilization brought him (education) and the fact they still treat Indios as 2nd class citizens without rights. While Istak still believes in the Christian God, he rejects the Catholic institution that oppresses him and his people.

With the law an accomplice to the oppression to the Indios by raping a lowly farmer girl just because she is a lowly farmer girl. The issue of vigilantism becomes more of a reality as a way to counter injustices of their oppressors. It harkens to the American Black slave experience. Like Black slaves in the new land, they took new names to erase the past as much as to harken the future. Just like Dredd Scott, Istak now is thinking that violence might be the only way to kick white people out of his lands.

In an absence of justice, is vigilantism ever ok?

An-no wanted to protect Orang after she was brutally raped by the authorities by promising to be her husband. While Ba-ak died by being crushed to death by a python, Mayang died by drowning in a treacherous river crossing.

He was eventually saved by Dailan, she told her story as a girl who was raped by 6 pirates and her family killed by those pirates. Which brings a question whether a corrupt law and order is better than no order at all. After all, how many people in lawless trade routes have been killed or raped? She married an older man who saved her. I guess after many bad things happened to her, the most important thing in a mate is not an attraction or a feeling of soulmate but a feeling of security and someone who could provide the basic needs.

I wonder to what extent Istak's interest is due to her beauty/steadfastness and to what extent is it due to her taking care of him when he was sick. Istak feels he is indebted to Dalin for being by his side when he needed it most. I think Jose is at his best when he talks about lovers physical yearnings that turn into emotional ones as what happens to Istak feelings toward Dalin. I love how Dalin cures Istak's body and proceeds to give herself to him body and soul. I love how he argues that matters of the heart supersede the decorum of institutional marriage.

Ilokano's have a sense of loyalty of friendship and family. According to Tito Blas, the destiny of the poor is to work on lands that will soon be taken away by the rich. The problem with the Philippines is that it is really just a collection of different tribes without a unifying identity. The Samson family shows the dangers of settlers in going to an unknown land like the American West. They were really homesteaders in search of free land in Rosales. Don Jacinto is good to the Sampsons and offers them a place to stay in exchange for cultivating his land. Although Istak know the risk is still the same as what his father faced in Po-on in that his land can be confiscated by the friars who are the King of Spain magistrates in the Philippines, he though Don Jacinto a fair and just man so he decided that the Samson clan would stay and help cultivate the land.

Part II

Istak became a healer with the power of prayer and herbalism as his means to heal. He healed his brother and nephew and became a renowned healer in his land. According to Istak, he gets tired when he heals and his healing power works by heating the recipient which ends with a feeling of well-being if not grace for the recipient. He also is useful as teacher of literacy to both the children and the adults.

Whereas Bit-tik was formally a wonderer and likes to explore new places including a mountain cove where he was ravaged by 6 women due to a plague that ravage their male population, after the execution of An-no by the Guardia Civil, Bit-tik stopped wandering and took Orang as his wife. Originally, the Samsons did not want to be part of the revolutionary but just wanted to live a normal life. The reason Don Jacinto was good to Istak is initially he saw them as part of the revolutionary struggle against the Spaniards with their injustices. Because Istak was learned, Jacinto considered him an ilustrado. The ilustrados were like Jeffersonian American in their ideals for the sacredness of land as a way to ensure individual liberty. Perhaps the ilustrados were the natural leaders of the revolution since they had something to lose whereas the poor had only their lives to lose.

Istak ideas of involvement in a nationalistic struggle began to change when he met Mambini. Mambini thinks that doubt to faith is a good thing because it shows that Filipino's are thinking what is right for them instead of a reflexiveness of blind faith. Although Istak believes that he has been granted power from God in his healing, he has doubts in the injustices of the Spanish religious institutions. He has difficulty reconciling his God given gift as a healer with a God seemingly unconcerned with the injustices that the indios face. Mambini wants to create a Filipino church as a child of the enlightenment Deist philosophy, he thinks it behooves Filipino's to create the justice they want seen in their country via revolutionary means and then creating their own government. Mambini thinks it is important that a person never forgets where they came from. Just as Mambini was a farmer turned ilustrado so to is Istak. Like Mambini, Istak loved talking about learned things. Mambini tries to instill in Istak a feeling of nationalistic pride so Filipino's will be able to rule themselves. After years being treated as a 2nd class citizen, Istak is invited to dinner with his esteemed colleagues at the behest of Mambini. From previous experience, Mambini does not trust the wealthy because they enrich themselves first and foremost and exploit their workers. Is it the same in the US with Romney? He states that it is the common man that makes a unified nation. Istak faith made the Samson persevere and it is his faith combined with Dalin's blessing that made him follow his destiny as a revolutionary.

In the end Istak finally became a revolutionary courier and guide to the difficult mountain passes. As a revolutionary courier, he ran into trouble with American's in fast pursuit. Once he faced the enemy, he was no longer afraid of him because of his awareness that they are human beings too. Unfortunately in the days before war media coverage, Americans followed a scorch earth strategy of annihilating entire villages and raping women just as all armies during war time do. But since thee advent of media coverage of war, there is no accountability for once destructive actions.

Istak decided to fight for a fragmented nationalism due a sense of nationalistic duty and justice. He wants to prove that he is a true Indio inside so he decides to stay and due a last stand with the Filipino revolutionary army. I like how Jose describes the exhilaration that he feels as his transformation from healer to to destroyer becomes complete. In war, all difference within a team disappears replaced by a common sense of oneness. War does extoll sacrifice to ones country as the highest honor and supersedes baser concerns. Knowing that one will die, a soldier no longer fears death. Istak is just saddened that he will leave his family to fend for themselves.

Mambini states that the Filipino revolution failed because there is internal strife (sectarian violence) as well as a motivated imperial power with a strong military. The reason the Philippines is an easily divided country there is national character rather it is a collection of different people with each their own regional quirks. A lack of common goals, heritage, and language dooms Filipinos because they lack trust in one another. A lack of a united front doomed the revolution. The lack of diversity in the military outside the Tagalog region meant a lack of a unified buy into the revolution and thus it was easy for foreigners to place one tribe against the others.

Unlike Spanish imperialism which sought to subjugate its colonies under its rule, American imperialism seeks to prepare other countries for democratic self-rule with favorable trade agreement as its heart. But if we failed in creating the Philippines as a democratic capitalistic prosperous country in our image after 50 years of peaceful transition rule, what makes the neoconservatives think we can do it in Iraq or Afghanistan in less <10 years with considerable popular insurgency? Perhaps, Rizal is correct in stating the 1st path to self rule really goes through educating and literacy for the general populace followed with some sort of pride in their industry. Istak learned from Padre Jose that knowledge through reading gives people power.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Neyo .
20 reviews3 followers
October 8, 2013
BEING an Ilocano myself, and having known much of our own history and language, I take pride of having read F. Sionil Jose’s Po-on (Dusk), the first in the five-book series The Rosales Saga. It’s the same feeling I had, as a Filipino and proud member of the Malay race, after reading the English versions of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, two classic novels of Jose Rizal.

The setting of Rizal’s Noli and Fili is a fictional town called San Diego (possibly in Laguna), but the issues transcend the locale of the novel. It depicts the general struggle of the Filipino against abuses by the friars and the ambivalence of the ruling class. It is set at the time when the Philippines was still a province of Mother Spain.

Sionil Jose’s Po-on, on the other hand, is set in Cabugao, in my home province of Ilocos Sur, and ultimately in Rosales, Pangasinan, the author’s birthplace. It initially describes the plight of the Ilocanos at the hands of the abusive Spanish rulers during the later part of their rule in the region, and the start of the American conquest, following the Spanish-American war. But toward the end of the novel, it conveys a message that deals with nationalism or the question of our identity as Filipinos.

The novels of Rizal and Sionil Jose both deal on poverty, poor governance and human rights abuses during the Spanish time, with emphasis on the lecherous, potbellied friars who rule the land and oppress the people. But while Noli and Fili is seen through the eyes of an ilustrado (Crisostomo Ibarra a.k.a. Simoun the Jeweler), Po-on is seen through the eyes of a poor indio named Istak (Eustaquio Salvador/Samson), who went with his family in exodus from Ilocos to Pangasinan to escape from the wrath of the Spaniards after the grisly killing of a parish priest. The journey of the family filled with tragedies is comparable with that of Tom Joad’s family in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, who also got to their Promised Land but in the end, something had to be sacrificed in the name of duty.

Having moved by the powerful and intense narration of the Po-on, I felt a pang of conscience and regret for having read only a few emotionally charged fictions written by our own nationalist authors that really speak about us—our past, our present, and our future. Before Po-on and Rizal’s twin novels, I have read Gagamba also by F. Sionil Jose, Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco, and an anthology of short stories by Mindoro native NVM Gonzales. But none that I have read so far, other than Po-on, speaks the history of the resilient and frugal Ilocanos.

We Ilocanos are well scattered to other parts of the country and to foreign lands, where we account for majority of immigrant Filipinos. They say it’s about our land. Ilocos Region, or Ilocandia, is one of the smallest regions in the country. Add to this fact that the region is sandwiched by the sea in the west and by the rugged mountains in the east, a condition that has made for a very limited amount of arable land for a very industrious people. It was a tough geographical location for us Ilocanos to live in. No wonder, we are stereotyped with regional traits vital for survival, such as tenacious industry, perseverance, resilience, frugality, and pioneering spirit. Because of so very little space in the region, Ilocanos seemingly are duty-bound to move to other places in search for better opportunities not only for their own sake but for the whole clan.

In Po-on, Sionil Jose shows us the other reason for this diaspora, which is the persecution of the Ilocano indios under the Spanish regime. But prior to Istak’s story, the Spaniards weren’t particularly lucky with their conquest of Ilocos. The Ilocanos were one of the first ethnic groups to revolt against Spanish officials. Two of the Philippines’ most notable uprisings were the Basi Revolt in 1807 and the one lead by the lion-hearted Diego Silang of Aringay (now part of La Union) in 1762-63, which was continued by his wife Gabriela Silang. The Silangs’ revolt, which is also well mentioned in Po-on, was fueled by the grievances against Spanish taxation and abuses. The uprisings were short-lived and never duplicated until the twilight of the Castilian rule during Istak’s time.

These abuses by the Spanish rulers subsist in the province up to the last decade of the 19th century. Although one exceptional friar is very kind to young Istak and takes care of him like his own son, that is, teaching him how to pray, write and speak Spanish and Latin, Istak and the rest of the indios are not generally allowed to become priests. So Istak, in spite of his advance education, has to go back to his family and help in his family's farm. Ba-ac begs the new priest to send his son to the seminary, and while they are arguing, Ba-ac realizes that the priest is the one who ordered him to be arrested and hung up by the arm because of an accusation that he was malingering from the duty to offer compulsory road building work for the Spanish. In a fit of fury he kills the priest with a crucifix. Ba-ac’s family has to leave hurriedly, taking the back roads to avoid the Spanish guards. They go with other relatives who have also been expelled from their lands. So the whole family escape like fugitives and along the way, they encounter the much feared tulisanes and the atrocious Spanish officers. Amidst their adventures are poignant episodes of love and devotion, particularly between Istak and Dalin, his devoted wife and savior, and family solidarity and values.

At the end of the story, we see Americans now taking over but, soon the Filipinos found out that they are as bad as the Spanish. American soldiers would torture and rape the poor natives. Don Jacinto, the local landowner who helps them set up a small village in Rosales town, is very much involved in the independence movement and Istak soon starts helping him, particularly when a man known as the Cripple (Apolinario Mabini) stays at the house of Don Jacinto. Finally, Istak is sent off on a dangerous mission to take a message to President Emilio Aguinaldo but ends up at the last brave stand of El Presidente's loyal soldiers at Tirad Pass, where Istak was shot dead by the Americans.

Istak, a martyr in a very real sense, is aglow with patriotic fervor until his death. He understands that love for country, which involves sacrifice, is essential to discovering the meaning of his own existence. And true enough, he gave honor to the country by proving to the white invaders that Filipinos are capable of offering their dear lives, not only for their clan, but for our country's freedom. Sadly, this is all in the past tense. We now live in a curious era where most Filipinos wanted to be Americans or Europeans, and most of our politicians are bereft of patriotism in their service to the nation.

The Cripple in the novel says it with fire and ice: "There is so much that the past can teach us… Diego Silang—more than a hundred years ago, what did he prove? That with a brilliant and selfless leader, we can be united the way he united the north. And united, we can then make Filipinas strong, formidable…”

Of course, today there are no more colonizers to contend with, but we still have many wars to fight. There is the war on poverty, rampant corruption in government transactions, poor governance, and the never-ending struggle for national unity. Po-on clearly tells us that our dream to have selfless leaders, who know the value of self-sacrifice, and citizenry that is truly united for the country remains a dream.

I must say, Po-on is a must-read for every Filipino if we only want to educate our countrymen about our glorious past.

Profile Image for Maan.
198 reviews7 followers
February 20, 2014
Book #11 for 2014: This book was my first F. Sionil Jose. I admit that I have been wanting to read him for the longest time but I have been putting him off thinking that his work was probably not my cup of tea. He might be heavy, deep, or too profound for me. However, when my book club scheduled a read along of the Rosales Saga, I knew that was the nudge that I needed to pick up his book.

Po-on has every element of a page turner. As a historical fiction, it breaks most of the stereotypes of the genre (it is not boring. It's also not unrelatable). There were times that I wanted to call in sick just to stay at home and read away (I did not do that, though. I am a responsible worker. Haha). It also has too many deaths (which made me think of Game of Thrones. Maybe F. Sionil Jose and G. R. R. Martin have a psychic connection? I don't know) for my taste but this shall not stop me from reading the other books. It made me feel patriotic, too. I know that history is my weakness and this story made me want to brush up on Philippine History. On a lighter note, I also daydreamed that in another life, I am one of the Samsons of Sionil Jose. Or maybe I was a descendant of The Samsons. I cannot wait to read the other books and to get closure on this saga.

Most of his lines about Philippines, duty, and patriotism can be applied and said today. Truth is timeless. This was my first F. Sionil Jose and I was blown away.

Favorite Lines:

But of what use was all this knowledge now? Around him was the night, total and vast the cold sparkle of stars. The lamps of the other houses had all been snuffed out, but the crown of the dalipawen tree was ablaze with a thousand fireflies and on a night like this, the spirits would be there, in harmony with the world in a way he was not. (p. 11)

"It is not disgrace I bring you, my beloved half--" he rarely used the words -- "It is honor. Don't you know what this means? I am not a servant anymore. So we must run away now and hurry. Else they will find use here in the morning." (p. 43)

He wrote: We go from one darkness to another and in between, the hidden light of the world, of knowledge. We open open our eyes and in this circle of light, we see not just ourselves but others who are our likenesses. This light tells us all men are brothers, but even brothers kill one another, and it is in this light where all this happens. But living in this dazzling light does not blind us to what lies beyond the darkness from where we emerged and where we are going. It is faith which makes our journey possible though it be marred by the unkindness of men, their eternal faulting, before we pass on to another darkness. (p. 53)

In wine, truth; in dreams, the soul? (p. 69)

The day comes different from all others, night quickly falls, and sometimes, it is best to be silent, to be alone with one's thoughts. (p. 72)

He was but twenty-one then and Padre Jose--bless him--had said that even one so young like him had already shown wisdom by being concerned not only with living but with what made life bearable. (p. 177)

"How can we build trust among our own people? How can we make them confident of themselves and their countrymen so that they will not sell their souls for a few silver dollars? We need more leaders like Diego Silang." (p. 181)

"You say then that we must leave the leader to his fate? He has committed mistakes but until he is captured or killed, he is not just a leader, he is a symbol of our struggle, of our will. Yes, we have already lost the war. This is true. Even an unlettered man can see this. But this land belongs to us, Eustaquio, and someday, we will win. We lose now, but we will fight again, each one of us, until they tire, until they are bloodied and wearied, until we are free and justice triumphs." (p. 182)

By then, Kimat had slowed and though he prodded the animal, it would no longer run. His canter turned into a slow walk, and just as they entered the village, the animal stopped, shuddered, and collapsed. (p. 198)

"If there is no country as such or as you know and recognize, then in your mind you must give its boundaries. Do this because without this country you are nothing. This land where you stand, from which you draw sustenance, is the Mother you deny. It's to her where your thoughts will go even if you refuse to think so, for it is where you were born, where your loved ones live, and where in all probability you will all die. We will love her, protect her, all of us--Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, so many islands, so many tribes--because if we act as one, we will be strong and so will she be. Alone, you will fall prey to every marauder that passes by. I am not asking that you love Filipinas. I am asking that you do what is right, what is duty..." (p. 214)

Duty comes in many forms; at times duty to country may conflict with duty to family. Yet, with a lucid mind the guises can be torn away and in the end, duty becomes but one, and that is duty to value justice above everything--to do what is right not because someone ordains it, but because the heart which is the seat of truth decrees it so. (p. 215)

In death, all men are brothers. (p. 226)
Profile Image for Melaslithos.
175 reviews41 followers
November 23, 2015
Dusk is the first book about Philippines or written by a Filipino author that I ever read. Actually, before hearing this book mentioned in The World's Literature group, I had never even heard of any books from Filipino authors. All I knew about that country was that is has disputed islands with China and that it's a nice holidays spot, with fantastic beaches.

After reading this book, I discovered how much I missed and how ignorant I was.

Firstly, it is beautifully written, and I feel that the author, F. Sionil José deserves much more recognition than he currently has. How narrow our view of literature can sometime be! This is also the reason why I love groups such as The World's Literature group, since it allows me to push the limits of my knowledge and my know world.

Secondly, the story is enthralling. I went to sleep several times at 2-3am, because I couldn't put down this book (the typical "just one more chapter before going to sleep" that then evolves into 2, then 3, 4, etc.). The story is at the same time very simple (we follow the life of a 'farmer', Istak, his flight from persecution, how he builds himself a new life, and how he is caught up by the plights of his land and people), but also complex, because we also get embroiled, along with the main character, into the history of Philippines.

And that is the third perk of this book. The discovery. The discovery of the land, along with the Salvador/Samson family while they flee, but also discovery of this country, when the events and the war catch up with Istaq. I must admit that I never really thought much about the Philippines, but I loved learning more about it. And clearly, I will need to dig deeper into their history, especially since I am planning on going there at the end of this year. And I think that reading the following episodes of the Rosales Saga will be the perfect way to do this.
Profile Image for Robbie G.
44 reviews2 followers
November 23, 2014
I now have an F. Sionil Jose in my shelf. I hold my head up high.

Involuntary management of expectations was I how I won this one. I had anticipated boring literary that would ramble on through endless beautiful words without progressing much into the moral, the kind your condescending Markova-esque professor in Humanities had handed out for required reading. How wrong I was. And now I am overwhelmed. First turn of the page and it was gorefest, right off the bat. Then it moves on into gripping suspense, while the characters were molded and identities delineated, their lives going into one turning point after another from oh so many depressing events. Didn’t expect the pace to be that fast. Now it’s over, but the scenes linger.

More than anything, this book was pure nostalgia for me. The mountains, the towns, the churches, all were a big part of my life. And I was not expecting as well to be thrown into reminiscences of my early 20’s in the towns I used to frequent – from Cabugaw, to Vigan in the Sur, the La Union municipalities, down to San Fabian and Bayambang and all the eastern Pangasinan towns from Rosales and out into the Caraballo range. It was like being thrown back into time, and then thrown back further for it was set in the late 19th century. I was visualizing all the places like how I had last seen them, and then re-imagining them, unsophisticated.

I could really go on and on forever, may be back to edit this after I get some perspective.

Watch your six,

Profile Image for Katherine.
53 reviews16 followers
November 17, 2011
I took my time with this book- I think its because many emotions were stirring inside of me that I had to reconcile with first. I wish I knew more of my own Filipino history. I felt sad that I did not know many of the folk heroes that were mentioned in this book. I also hurt for all the savagery of th Spanish and American occupations that occured many generations ago but still.....Lastly, I agree with the author's viewpoint that as Filipinoes, we are not united. Even today as we apeak, we are divided by our dialects, by our islands, by our foods....We should be Filipinos first but most times, we define ourselves from the island we come from or the dialect that we speak. How different would our world have been if we gathered everyone together, from the Igorots, to the Visayans and united as one to protect our own mother land? And today, why cannot we still unite as one? Why haven't we learned form our ancestors?
Profile Image for Stephen C..
142 reviews6 followers
August 12, 2020
Wow. Strong 4. Strong historical story, replete with a balance of philosophy, emotion, spirituality and the protagonist’s personal journey/development. I learned a ton about the Philippines; their modern history — i’ve never ever been taught or told, and feel both personally to blame (somehow ?!?) yet profoundly robbed. Then again, history is taught in ways our conductors intended, with omission being as benign an act for them as manipulation. This was written well, not great, but well, reminding me of a step down from a similar evolution of existence detailed in Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, mixed with the atorytelling cadence of Follet’s Pillars of the Earth... Really learned a lot from this book and got the Filipino insights i desired, for sure.
20 reviews8 followers
August 25, 2011
It's a read that sneaks up on you. At first it's okay, yeah, not bad, and then you realize you've been reading it, looking forward to it, and finally, it all hits you. This story has been masterfully, very purposefully told. We get to live the experience of the "nameless soldier" through the protagonist, and in doing so, gain insight into the fierce struggle for Filipino independence.

Profile Image for Joaquin Mejia.
81 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2017
I am a Filipino like the author and I find the book beautiful. I loved the characters (Filipinos like me) and the setting (mostly the Ilocos region). This novel is good for the Filipino spirit.
Profile Image for Ryl.
22 reviews
April 15, 2021
The context of the story is the colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards and the Americans. It is in that time that Istak or Eustaquio, an Ilokano, struggles in the social struggle in surviving the oppression of the foreigners. He is a learned man, knowing Latin, Spanish, and Filipino languages. He uses this advantage for his community to survive. The struggles they went through were composed of sorrow, loss, and pain.

As a Filipino, I see the connection between myself and the community of Ilokanos. I felt every struggle and loss of the community. While reading, I can feel the pressure of Istak whenever he has little or no options left. The struggles that they had were not created on their own. I cannot say that they struggle because it is the consequence of their choices but their struggles are externally imposed on them. They tried to live in peace in their own land, but they don't have the power to protect themselves from wealthier people.

So, I think the wisdom I got from the novel is not more about the nationalism that we can have for our country. Rather, it is the struggle and loss that we may inflict on others if we only attend to our self-interest. While reading, I felt pity and anger when the community of Isaak was the victim of the selfishness of others.

Here are the quotables:

"How can I love a thousand islands, a million people speaking not my language but their very own which I cannot understand? Who, then, do I love?"

"The greatest criminals are also the wealthiest men."

"Virtue and wealth seldom go together."
Profile Image for Deanne Dumo.
31 reviews21 followers
May 28, 2017
A beautiful read, and my first book of F. Sionil Jose. Po-on, the title of the novel, comes from a small town in Ilocos where the tenant farmer family in the story originated. Alternatively, Po-on is also a Tagalog word for Lord. The novel is about the exile and journey of the fictional Salvador family from Ilocos to Pangasinan, set during the last years of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. It is a novel about faith and the humble search for the meaning of life, of the farmer Istak, who was educated and served as an acolyte in their parish in his youth. He led his family's exile from Ilocos to a new life of farming in Pangasinan. Throughout the family's history, Istak served as their village's leader, healer and teacher. An intriguing plot twist in the latter part is the introduction of two of our national heroes (I won't tell!). With them, the resonating theme of the novel is the trust and unity needed among Filipinos, irregardless of what region they came from, to achieve liberty and strength as a nation. A beautiful fictional retelling of the Battle of Tirad Pass in the end, where Istak realized that his faith and love for country is the same: the duty and meaning of his life. I hope many students of Filipino language or literature get to read this novel.
Profile Image for Missy J.
563 reviews83 followers
March 15, 2021
Banaba tree with its purple blossoms that have incredible medicinal uses.

"[...] if the Americans did not suffer from historical amnesia, they would never have gone to Vietnam. In the Spanish-American War, 250,000 Filipinos (whom the American soldiers called 'niggers') - mostly civilians - were killed, and thousands of Americans - many of them veterans of the Indian campaigns - were also casualties. As in the Philippines, in Vietnam the United States came face-to-face with that indomitable force, Asian nationalism.
The Spanish-American War was objected to vehemently by many Americans, including Mark Twain. On my first visit to the United States, in 1955, I met Robert Frost in Ripton, Vermont. He related how he, too, was against the war, believing that a nation that won its freedom in revolution must not, cannot, impose its hegemony on a people waging a revolution for freedom."

- F. Sionil Jose

"Dusk" (also known as "Po-on") is part of the Rosales saga written by the most celebrated Filipino novelist F. Sionil Jose. Even though "Dusk" is chronologically the first book in the five book series, it was the last book to be completed in 1984.

The story is set in the Ilocos region (northern Philippines) in the late 19th century. The main character Istak is a bright Ilocano, who was handpicked by a Spanish priest to work at the church and thus received a little Western education. Unfortunately just when Istak is about to be sent to seminary school, the Spanish priest dies, and his replacement isn't fond of Istak and kicks him out of the church. An unfortunate incident occurs and Istak and his family plus extended family members have to leave their home and run away from the Spanish guards.

At this point, the story starts to resemble John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Most of the book consists of the journey that the family has to undergo. I was quite annoyed by the melodramatic tone of the story. On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading a work of quality set in the Philippines and during an interesting point in history (the Philippines was the first colonized country in Asia to gain independence). However, on the other hand, the melodrama and the constant focus on personal relationships (fascination of women) was in my opinion over the top. I felt that Istak only showed his true colors towards the end of the novel. Before that we only hear about food, breasts, snakes, God and trees over and over again.

Also, what happened to the six children that Istak's younger brother fathered somewhere in the mountains? I didn't get that part of the book, it is mentioned randomly and the author never returned to it (or does that story line continue in the second book of the series?). Some characters were too one-sided and shallow, such as Dalin who was too good to be true or Don Jacinto who is just a benevolent, rich man. Furthermore, Istak's entire family including cousins, aunts and uncles traveled with him to Rosales, and yet Istak only interacts with his brothers, his parents, Dalin, and one uncle and his two daughters.

But I did enjoy Istak's struggle to understand why the revolutionaries were fighting for the "Philippines" and how to relate with people from the other islands who didn't share a common language with him. To build a nation, people have to first be united, but in this case people from different islands were extremely distrustful of people from other places. Istak was stuck in the middle - between his family and the abstract idea of a Filipino sovereign state. In Asia, until this day it is very common for people to first think of their own "tribe". It's one of the contradictions of a collectivist society. I also enjoyed Istak's inability to hate the old Spanish priest because he taught him so much that later on in life proved to be essential for his survival. Therefore, Istak wondered whether or not the Americans could bring something of value for his people too. Finally, I also appreciated Istak's confession of his wavering faith in God when he had reached his weak points in the book. It's crazy to think how Catholicism shaped the Philippines. Until this day, people are still seeking a messiah-like figure to bring an end to poverty, economic stagnation and corruption (wink wink Duterte). Finally, I also enjoyed the descriptions of nature. Nature is bountiful on the Filipino islands and the close relationship between the people and the land was inspiring.
Profile Image for DW.
482 reviews5 followers
September 8, 2013
Someone gave me this book ... a long time ago ... and I haven't managed to read it until now because the beginning is so depressing. The book opens with the main character being dismissed as an acolyte (and losing the chance to lift himself out of poverty) at a church because he accidentally walked in on the new priest having sex. The first two Filipino grown men you meet have had their hands amputated by the Spanish for "stealing" and one of them dies right after he is introduced. Who would want to read a book like that? Not me, I just wanted to have read it.

The first half or so is the rather boring flight of Istak's family to somewhere away from the Spaniards pursuing them. The only exciting part is crossing a dangerous river. And we have the usual cheery events of people strangled by pythons and random Spaniards coming by and raping girls. Then they find some place to stay and build houses. Things are going quite well (except for that one guy wrongly executed for murder but whatever), until the war against the Spaniards reaches them and Istak is pressed into service for Mabini (the Cripple, leader and writer for the Filipinos) because Istak is educated even though he has been living as a farmer.


So eventually Istak is asked to find General Aguinaldo and lead him whereever he needs to go in the mountains because the Americans are chasing Aguinaldo and Istak knows the way. Istak nearly dies getting there, including having his horse shot out from under him and being bashed in the head by an American soldier who raped a girl and participated in razing a village. But Istak lost his letter of introduction, so the head guy doesn't trust him and sends him away. Istak won't quit and ends up dying with the troops at some heroic last stand that isn't very well set up because the head officer wouldn't listen to Istak.

So, I think this book is ridiculously depressing. I wish I knew if the author really thought that the amount of misery in Istak's life was typical of Filipinos of that period. It seemed to me that he was exaggerating to make the story more dramatic.

I do think the book makes an interesting point about how Filipinos didn't see themselves as a nation, didn't have a common language (only the educated spoke Spanish), and didn't trust Filipinos from other areas at that time. Most of the book focuses exclusively on the Ilocanos and Istak doesn't even have to talk to anybody else until the very end.

The letters that started and ended the book (not written by Istak) were jarring. I understand symbolically how they showed the Philippines passing from the Spanish to the Americans, but they struck me as really out of place because the people writing the letters never showed up in the book. Also, a few paragraphs of the book changed from third person to first person of Istak addressing God or himself or something, without using italics or anything. I was told not to do that in a middle school writing class and I would still say that doesn't work.

I'm sure someone is going to shoot my head off for this review, since I'm half Filipino myself and therefore should love everything Filipino or something. I won't say the book is not good literature. It's certainly better literature than When the Elephants Dance. But it strikes me as unnecessarily maudlin. I won't be reading the rest of the series.
424 reviews
March 6, 2017
I remember listening to F. Sionil Jose about writing when he came to our school as a guest speaker. He said that writing is an art. It is painting a blank canvas with words. This is my first time reading his work and it did not disappoint.

Ok. Frankly speaking , Dusk gripped me right from the beginning. The characters where painted in a vivid light. Their thoughts and personality resonating with fixed clarity. Being a Filipino, it's easy to relate to the characters especially when full knowledge of the history of the Philippines during the Spanish Colonization. This book made me think about how powerful religioun was it can bring a whole nation unto its knees.

F. Sionil Jose captured how a man's ignorance can be used as a collar tied to a powerful man's leash. Not just lack of education but religion, the illusion of boundaries among social class, and inferiority. Even now, colonial mentality is still lush in Philippine society. It's tragic how today's generation doesn't work more on being worthy of their country's blood and sufferings. Rather, they seek to get out and stay out of the Philippines. Who can fucking blame us right?

Though rich with wisdom, this book, I'm afraid to say, lack the action, thrill and excitement I was used to from other books. I contemplated giving this 3 stars but I thought it was too little. Dusk makes a great dissertation which in consequence, crippled the plot. Though it tickled my brain, it didn't leave me at the edge of my seat. There was something lacking I couldn't quite point out. The first person narrative was a thought of a country, a nation and not of a living, breathing, flawed human being.

Anyway. This is a great revolutionary literary piece. It’s a sad a few Filipinos have read this.
Profile Image for Kelly.
146 reviews21 followers
March 7, 2020
Dusk is the story of Istak, a young Ilocano man who is forced to flee with his family when he runs afoul of the Spanish religious establishment. After many tribulations they are able to found a new village and Istak becomes a faith healer, an occupation which brings him into contact with Apolinario Mabini and the Filipino resistance to both Spanish rule and the incipient American occupation. While the story remains firmly centered on Istak and his family, it also encompasses the transition from Spanish to American rule and the rise of a Philippine national consciousness, managing to be simultaneously a deeply personal narrative of a single human life and an epic tale of the founding of a nation. The prose is so simple as to be almost mythic, and though José does not shy away from the brutality of life among poor Filipinos at the turn of the twentieth century—injustice, brutal and senseless death, and rape are frequent occurrences—there is also a tender humanity to the writing that keeps it from being too bleak. Dusk is the first book (chronologically, though it was the last to be written) in the five-book Rosales saga, which spans the modern history of the Philippines. I have not read the others, but if they're even half as good as this one, they're worth a look.

This review is an excerpt from a post on my blog, Around the World in 2000 Books.
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