Gregorio C. Brillantes, a Palanca Award Hall of Famer and a multi-awarded fiction writer, is one of the Philippines' most popular writers in English. Known for his sophisticated and elegant style. He often writes about individuals under thirty, adolescent or post adolescent ones who struggle with alienation from family, society and from themselves. His earlier collection of short stories earned him the title of the "Catholic Writer". But elements of the fantastic also come in his works. In the 2006 Graphic/Fiction Awards, the main local sponsor of the contest, specialty book shop Fully Booked, acknowledged Brillantes as one of the godfathers of fantastic literature in English by naming the first category the Gregorio C. Brillantes Prize for Prose.
"There are distances... between a man and his country, which are bridged only by love. One of the names that such love bears is nationalism. Another is courage."
I came across this book in the family library (defined as the books in the common living area, as opposed to our personal libraries in our separate bedrooms) and thought it belonged to my dad. Apparently, it was my twin's! It was required reading for her in college: "This is HOW to write Creative Nonfiction."
(I think contemporary CNF authors can learn a thing or two, but stylistically, I think Brillantes' technique was for a different time, for a more learned general reader familiar with Thomas Merton and Graham Greene, what with all the run-on sentences that lasted PAGES).
The Table of Contents showed that it was a book of travel essays published in different magazines and newspapers, ranging in dates from the 1960's to the 1990's. The first part was about local spots, the second in Europe, and the third in South America.
And as you do when it's Holy Week, and both work and circumstance do not allow you to travel, I thought I'd travel vicariously through the words of "Escolastico," as Brillantes called himself.
Without a doubt, the best works were the ones about Tarlac, Ermita, and Quiapo! The author's love for country seeped through every line, although he was unafraid to point out the squalor and noise of the urban areas. True Love is, after all, not blindness, but willingness to accept the entirety of the beloved. As Brillantes put it, "To go away from your country is to fall in love with it: the perspective, and the tension, of distance enables you to view it, as if for the first time, in the wholeness of its being."
Of lesser brilliance, but still worthy of interest, were the essays about Lourdes, Madrid, and Paris.
The South American essays in this book may actually turn off future potential visitors, haha! So unfortunate and unpleasant were the author's experiences there!
I am told that I need to read his sci-fi works, and so I shall! Am grateful for this Black Saturday trip around the world, from the safety of our home. I particularly liked this reminder by the author, for fellow patriots:
"As the noble and the brave, the truly great, from Rizal to Aquino, have shown us by their example, we must all go home again."
In "Looking for Jose Rizal in Madrid", famed fictionist Gregorio Brillantes stays true to the book's (actually an essay collection) title: searching for the Filipino (Rizal as the symbol of that Filipino) in all the places he manages to set foot in: from the crowded masses in Quiapo to the isolated communities in Northern Luzon, to his hometown in Camiling, Tarlac- vividly capturing each place's local texture. Brillantes also journeys through Spain, Mexico, and some South American countries such as Nicaragua (basically countries with ties to Viva España), seemingly in ardent search for meaning in these countries- fleshing out the invisible power of faith and religion in these places, of great men and great books and great writing being able to move a people- of the subtle melding of history, culture, politics, of the ravages of earthly destruction & violence, and also the miracles of everyday life. These themes are important to Brillantes's writing; in his succinct afterword he appropriately quotes popular writer Alain de Botton: "Travel reminds us why we want to be alive." 4/5 stars