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A Question of Heroes

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Through his critical essays on ten key figures in Philippine history, Nick Joaquin provides a fresh point of view on Philippine heroes and their role in the Philippine revolutionary tradition.

244 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1977

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About the author

Nick Joaquín

71 books371 followers
Nicomedes Márquez Joaquín (1917–2004) was a Filipino writer and journalist best known for his short stories and novels in the English language. He also wrote using the pen name Quijano de Manila. In 1976, Joaquin was conferred the rank and title of National Artist of the Philippines for Literature. He has been considered one of the most important Filipino writers, along with José Rizal and Claro M. Recto. Unlike Rizal and Recto, whose works were written in Spanish, Joaquin's major works were written in English despite being a native Spanish speaker.

Before becoming one of the leading practitioners of Philippine literature in English, he was a seminarian in Hong Kong – who later realized that he could better serve God and humanity by being a writer. This is reflected in the content and style of his works, as he emphasizes the need to restore national consciousness through important elements of Catholic Spanish Heritage.

In his self-confessed mission as a writer, he is a sort of "cultural apostle" whose purpose is to revive interest in Philippine national life through literature – and provide the necessary drive and inspiration for a fuller comprehension of their cultural background. His awareness of the significance of the past to the present is part of a concerted effort to preserve the spiritual tradition and the orthodox faith of the Catholic past – which he perceives as the only solution to our modern ills.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
December 31, 2012
A very educational read. Nick Joaquin (1917-2004) was one of the National Artists of the Philippines so even if he did not use footnotes and references in this book, I could not help but believe him. After all, he was born in 1917 that was just about 2 decades after the Spanish-Filipino and Filipino-American wars. He also wrote many other great books, both fiction and non-fiction. So, I think he was credible enough to convince anyone that the events and claims he mentioned in this book actually happened or were the general opinions of the majority of Filipinos during that time. In short, I think Nick Joaquin was a believable historian even if I did not know him personally since I only started reading his works after he died or to be exact, when I joined Goodreads 3 years ago.

I am not sure if these are spoilers because this book is about history. Is listing down what you learned from a history book considered as spoiling the next reader? It's debatable for me because these things, if indeed true, should have been taught to every Filipino child in school because they are very important to all of us. Why? Because we call these people our heroes and we, just like any other races in the world, need to have someones to look up to. Someones who belong to our own race and who we think emulate the traits and values that we consider important to us as a nation. These men whose lives were scrutinized in this book fought for our independence from foreign colonizers. We were taught when we were in school that they were the great Filipinos. However, Nick Joaquin, in this book gave the other "side" of them. Call it humanization or showing their less-heroic angles but the revelations in this book are nevertheless, very intriguing if not enlightening.

Here were those that really struck me:

(1) The failed attempt to revolt in Noli was based on what happened to Padre Burgos who was one of the Creoles that got the ire of the Spanish friars. Padre Gomez and Padre Zamora's involvement in the foiled Cavite mutiny was both unclear since they were just based on unfounded testimonies.

(2) La Solidaridad's ultimate objective was for the Philippines to get equal footing with that of Spain and not for Spain to grant total independence to the Philippines. In a way, the illustrados (rich Filipino kids who could afford European schools like Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena and even Rizal) are seen as pro-Europe and not really pro-Philippines.

(3) Jose Rizal was an anti-hero. He did not support the Katipunan uprising in 1896. He was in ship on his way to support Spain in Guam when he was arrested. Weeks before his death by firing squad, he wrote the Filipinos to put down their arms. Although his claim that the Katipunan could not win the revolution because they did not have the right armaments was proven true, his actuation was truly anti-heroic.

(4) Andres Bonifacio was a stubborn, self-centered, spoiled brat who threw himself around when he lost the battles in Caloocan and San Juan in Manila. During the Tejeros convention, he usurped the presiding officer role and instead of mediating between the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions, he sided with the later and tried to steal the leadership from Emilio Aguinaldo. He even tried to pit the Cavitenos against the Bulacaneos instead of working towards their unification.

(5) Emilio Aguinaldo was not prepared to lead the nation since he was only used to lead a provincial cavitismo army. He was gullible enough to believe the verbal promises of the American generals. He was also very trusting and lack the sense of urgency and military prowess to anticipate the next moves of the Americans. That was why he lost the campaign for Philippine independence.

(6) Apolinario Mabini might have all the brain but he did not have the heart to lead. He was cold, apathetic and considered himself blameless as far as the reason for the failed revolution was concerned.

(7) Antonio Luna was killed because of his arrogance and hot temper. He was the slapping bastard. There was a possibility that his death, by hacking his head with a bolo, was with the permission from Emilio Aguinaldo because there was a rumor of his planned coup to wrestle the leadership from Aguinaldo.

(8) There is a big possibility that the big part of the heroism Gregorio Del Pilar was fictional. He was young and good-looking and a darling of the press. His death could attest to this. Newspapers picture him as a great romantic lover and said something like his heroic deed of fighting till his last drop but in reality he was killed because of his negligence or even stupidity.

(9) Artemio Ricarte was said to be the one who took the cudgels from Emilio Aguinaldo when he was captured and pledged allegiance to the Americans. However, his succeeding actions became shady especially when he went into self-exile in Japan that people could interpret as fighting the Americans but working with another colonizers, the Japanese forces. He died of ripe age, 80+ but not many people found his intent as really pro-independence.

So, if there is really nobody worth our unquestionable admiration among the roster of heroes we met in our textbooks in school when we were small children, then what do we do? Do we need to drop that long-held belief that they were good men worth emulating? My answer is no.

Like all of us, they were but humans. They were not perfect so they committed mistakes. For all we knew, they might not really aspired to be admired as some of them could have just been incidental heroes (example: Padre Gomez) or product of fictional writings (example: Gregorio del Pilar). However, they still died for our country during that pivotal points in our history. Not all of us are willing to die for our country, right? That for one is good enough for me to admire them.

This book is a MUST read for all Filipinos. Quite an appropriate read for Rizal Day, that is today, December 30th. More appropriate for National Heroes Day, I would say. Just the same, I am glad I read this book. Thanks, Jzhun.
Profile Image for Tatoosh.
5 reviews
September 12, 2009
An excellent introduction to some of the most prominent historical Filipinos. He provides a fairly well balanced viewpoint and cites his reasons for supporting one or another view about individuals that are controversial.

He is a very good antidote to the over-emphasis place on Renato Constatino's book, A Past Revisited. Joaquin finds the actions of individuals and groups to be that of obvious self interest and does not blame them for that in general, but acknowledges differing agendas.

Where he finds faults, he discusses them, Aquinaldos failure to take Manila and his reliance and preference for his clan and friends at the expense of effective leadership. And again he balances Mabini's accusations with his own failure to balance competing interests.

I have read this book once now and often refer back to it as pursue other authors biographical works about the individuals Joaquin discusses.
Profile Image for Hannah.
18 reviews1 follower
October 13, 2019
A book to reawaken one's patriotism or one's curiosity toward the truth of history. Do we believe everything taught to us in one book, one author, one perspective of events that have formed our nation? This book calls us to dig deeper and have a wider knowledge and wider appreciation (or disappointment) of who we place on pedestals and call heroes. A beautiful perspective on characters we are familiar with but may have never really understood with background.

Also, after a long search for the one-sentence paragraph my literature teacher told us that Nick Joaquin wrote, I smile at the fortunate coincidence that this book has presented to me at the very end of the page, as if to reward me for the arduous journey I undertook just to finish reading this book.

PPS You should also read "Dead Stars" by Paz Marquez Benitez as mentioned in this book as a possible Ricarte parable.
Profile Image for Gena.
118 reviews9 followers
August 23, 2021
I've read (or heard) somewhere that the problem with historians is that they view history as problems confronting people, not people confronting problems. Nick Joaquin, perhaps the first ever in the country, did the latter. Joaquin narrated history in terms of our heroes' (or anti-heroes') character, and his painting of each person's strengths and shortcomings offers a deeper insight on what hampered whatever Filipino dream for national democracy and independence there was. Again, they were people confronting problems. And the same problem for all ten heroes in this book was faced differently according to class and character, which Joaquin effectively whipped with his wit.

I do wish, however, that Nick Joaquin did not entirely exclude the proletariat (not even a chapter for Emilio Jacinto?). I think he may have praised the ilustrado class too much, dismissing the "ignorant class" as those who failed the 1896 Revolution in Manila, deserted Aguinaldo and Luna around 1898, and only emerged as the continuing (and dying) revolution come 1900s under Artemio Ricarte. After two essays of Bonifacio, he was merely referred to later on as the pompous Supremo who proved nothing in the San Juan Battle. But from what I read, the Revolution of the Ilustrados that Nick Joaquin so revered as what ignited the whole struggle was a series of self-interests, personal vendetta, and bad decision-making by the "intellectual class." If anyone failed and killed the revolution, it was Aguinaldo. I actually disagree with Joaquin on the part where he said the middle class did not abandon the revolution of the masses since the middle class started it in the first place, but it was in fact the petty clan and class wars of the bourgeoisie that augured the doom of the revolution.

But that's just my view of the story and I'm no Nick Joaquin; I'm only his reader. Still five stars, because, duh, Nick Joaquin. A must-read for every Filipino.
Profile Image for Topel Viernes.
1 review2 followers
December 30, 2018
This book, written by a personal favorite, sheds light on the obscurities of our Philippine history, a palliative to the widespread brainwashing of the inaccurate accounts of our history books. It is spot-on with how unwarranted the adorations and "canonizations" our society have bestowed upon some of our heroes. Joaquin excellently recounted Burgos' sectarian uprising as a prescient to the Filipino nationalism's rise, the valiance of the Propaganda movement, Aguinaldo's superior captaincy, Luna's cunning and cerebral generalship, and the last and least-celebrated (if at all) Filipino revolutionary Ricarte.

A common underlying theme, our heritage of smallness, comes to life on every page. The book has made a bold claim that this had preempted their ideologies taking form and grander dreams for the country. The book is in a higher league from other historical accounts because of its balanced, explicit details on the protagonists' works, shortcomings, and surprising eccentricities, as well as applying a systematic thinking approach between events and the equally important figures that shaped them. Joaquin effectively refuted the romanticism that plagued our history with his own distinguished brand of wit and facts from the most revered historians and academicians. A must read for EVERY FILIPINO, bar none.
Profile Image for Jane Glossil.
196 reviews28 followers
December 17, 2018
A must-read collection of personal insights on our national heroes and our history. Thought-provoking.

Heroes are still humans after all, contributing the better and worse versions of themselves to the history of this nation. History is always painful, but the pain should hold a promise, otherwise these heroes, these persons, would have fallen for a continuing battle that remains uncertain when to be won.

(The longer and more personal review is unfit for posting. :D)
Profile Image for Gabriela Francisco.
460 reviews10 followers
September 4, 2022
I ended up writing my review in 4 parts because there was SO MUCH information to digest!

Part 1:

I thought I'd share my learnings as I read this treasure, something I've picked up again on this day dedicated to national heroes (primarily for my own memory! Hehe, as I'd like Facebook to remind me of these posts in the future).

The book is divided into 14 chapters, featuring the different men (alas, no heroines are featured!) whose actions shaped our nation today.

National Artist Nick Joaquin entitled each chapter with a question, the first one being "How 'Filipino' was Burgos?"

Joaquin reminds us that the term "Filipino" originally referred to the Spanish mestizo (he uses the term "Creole"), but that this changed with the Cavite Mutiny of 1872, and that this united Filipinos of different ethnic backgrounds versus the Spanish oppressor. Two such Creoles were Padre Gomez and Burgos themselves.

A peace-loving man, one who "sought reform within the law, disliked violent upheaval, concerned with liberating the masses through education," is wrongfully accused of inciting bloody revolution.
And no, Joaquin is referring not to Jose Rizal nor his literary creation, Ibarra, but Padre Jose Burgos.
Textbooks often treat the 3 martyr priests as one entity: "Gomburza," but it was fascinating to read of how Zamora was arrested by accident (the warrant was for JOSE Zamora, not Padre Jacinto whose only misfortune was to be the co-curate of the REAL hero, Burgos), of Gomez's activism in his youth but how he was only punished for it when he was already 85 and had accepted the status quo, and of the glorious promise of Burgos whose dizzying rise to power threatened the foreign friars to the point that they invented an excuse to have him killed.

Joaquin writes of the accidental nature of heroism, and how society changes in its treatment of heroes depending on the times ("Even Aguinaldo, from the 1900's to the 1950's, was regarded as more villain than patriot.").

When we celebrate our heroes today, we would do well to reflect whether we have always seen them as thus. Or has their memory been sanitized and purged of past wrong doing, and towards what end?

Part 2:

"For wealth bred insolence, the insolence of grandeur."

Behold the Propaganda, "a sophisticated movement, conducted with pen and word, seeking reform, preaching enlightenment."

The next two chapters in the book were supposedly about the propagandists Marcelo H. del Pilar and Graciano Lopez-Jaena, but to my surprise, Nick Joaquin brought up other, less well-known names.

With the economic boom in the 1800's came wealth and privilege to Filipinos, and when rich families sent their sons to study in Europe, they started campaigning for reforms back at home.

Nick Joaquin wrote glowingly of Gregorio Sanciangco, a Chinese mestizo whose book EL PROGRESO DE FILIPINAS (1881) was "THE epiphany that started the Propaganda." He set down what other propagandists merely echoed in their appeals to the Spanish court.

I was quite dismayed to read the portrayal of Graciano Lopez-Jaena, whose brilliance was not used to the fullest because he was incapable of holding down a job, too busy drinking and using up funds given by countrymen in fleeting pleasures.

It saddened me to read how a very contemporary problem visited our heroes a century ago: embezzlement and misappropriation of funds to be used for the country. Not even "the great Lopez-Jaena" was exempt from corruption.

Lopez-Jaena, in the end, washed his hands of the movement, and even spoke ill against his former partner-patriot, Marcelo H. del Pilar! The audacity. He had the gall to beg for more funds (after misusing earlier monies) so he could campaign for politics in Spain. The nerve. Joaquin puts it bluntly: "He used the Propaganda movement to freeload."

Saddened by what he saw his countrymen do abroad, Rizal wrote:
"If our countrymen place their hopes in us here in Europe they are certainly mistaken. The help we can give them is our lives in our country... the medicine must be brought near to the sick man."

Same sickness, different century. The struggle continues.

Part 3:

"What is the use of independence if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"
Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Emilio Aguinaldo. Even if one weren't familiar with the Three "Biggies," the fact that author Nick Joaquin wrote two chapters for each of them is a clear indicator of their importance (he reserves the same honor for Apolinario Mabini, but that will be part of the next post).

Our national hero wrote books that inspired a revolutionary movement, which in turn inspired our future First President.

What fascinates me about Nick Joaquin's book is that it offers an alternative interpretation of events, while always sticking to the facts. Joaquin quotes primary sources, usually words penned by the heroes themselves.

These six chapters could best be summarized by the word "anti-hero." Nick Joaquin recounted how these three failed to live up to their idealized versions in different ways: Jose Rizal's denial to join the Katipunan and his application to serve Spain as a doctor in Cuba ("Rizal, when the Revolution came, chose to disown it and to enlist on the side of Spain."), Andres Bonifacio's failures as a military leader and his proud, domineering escapades that cost him his life in Cavite ("The revolutionaries had closed ranks behind Aguinaldo, and the price of unity was Bonifacio's blood."), and Emilio Aguinaldo's lack of foresight that made him trust in the deceitful American leaders who used him so the Americans could "conquer" Manila ("His was a politics of convenience.").

To be honest, I found Joaquin's account rather distressing, as I have been taught by pro-Rizal and pro-Bonifacio teachers. Then again, there is a kernel of truth to each side of the story, and having known one version, I count myself enriched by learning the other side.

What rings true are Joaquin's penetrating psychological descriptions. The descriptions of our heroes' weaknesses resonate with me culturally. When Nick Joaquin describes the inferiority complexes, the small-minded naivete, and provincial loyalties, he could have very well been describing ANY Filipino and not the best of our race.

"The Revolution was inopportune, because it cost the lives of the very men who could have made a true Filipino nation work," mourns Nick Joaquin, whose regard for the ilustrado is evident in every chapter. He maintains that "from a larger view, there was only one revolution in 1896 -- and it was not Bonifacio's... the entire period from the Propaganda Movement to the Philippine-American War as a single: the Revolution of the Ilustrados." He was referring to the educated elite who sought enlightenment through education, uplifting the masses so they could be worthy of self-governance. Rizal belonged to this group; Bonifacio and Aguinaldo did not but were inspired by it.

"Each failure was one more stone added to the construction of the nation."

Then as now, the soul and future of our country depends on how well its citizens are taught, and if they take these lessons to heart.

Part 4:

The final part of this important book concerned Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna, Gregorio del Pilar and Artemio Ricarte: a crippled genius, a raging general, a dandy, and the last Filipino revolutionary who never swore allegiance to the American oppressor. Two of these heroes were featured by director Jerrold Tarog (showing on Netflix! Heneral Luna in 2015 and Goyo in 2018), which count as among the best of locally produced films; we need more films like these!

For most part, the book felt very contemporary, but its 1977 publication date became evident when polio wasn't mentioned as the reason for Mabini's crippling (information that only came out in 1980 after an autopsy).

Despite being published 45 years ago, A QUESTION OF HEROES is still timely! And it's shocking to me that the information within isn't much discussed nor written about in textbooks.

When Nick Joaquin wrote this paragraph below, he touches upon a theme he revisits in CULTURE AND HISTORY (1988):

"We resisted becoming 'Philippine' or 'Filipino,' we would revert to petty kingdom, tribe, clan, barangay. Our deepest impulse has ever been not to integrate but to disintegrate. We seem to have a fear of form, especially of great form... it's this old native impulse to revert to a smaller condition that was at the root of what we call the crisis of the Malolos Republic."

When Joaquin quoted what Mabini wrote harshly about Aguinaldo, we are set up with the final theme of smallness of soul at the top, condemning the fate of a country: "The Revolution failed because it was badly directed... because instead of employing the most useful men of the nation he jealously discarded them. Believing that the advance of the people was no more than his own personal advance, he did not rate men according to their ability, character and patriotism, but according to the degree of friendship or kinship binding him to them."

This theme is continued in the depiction of Antonio Luna's betrayal by "cavitismo fused with egoism and the thirst for authority" by men loyal to Aguinaldo (a second hero murdered in the name of our first President!), and in the portrayal of the inept leadership of an Aguinaldo favorite, Gregorio del Pilar, who fell at Tirad Pass most uselessly.

"Tirad Pass, like Bataan, is a bad shrine for Filipinos, because there we feel absolved of the faults that lead to such disasters... if we bungle and botch, never mind, we do fall gloriously... a few more Tirads and we'll be the most heroic people in extinction."

Detractors might accuse Nick Joaquin of muddying reputations of some of the few role models we have (because there are too few of them still alive in the halls of government). But this reader does not detect the malice of the petty soul who seeks to seem superior by making others seem lesser. In Joaquin we seem to hear a prophet warning his countrymen from committing the same mistakes that our heroes made.

If "character is destiny" (as Joaquin keeps repeating), then isn't our individual and national character best formed by written truths, no matter how unflattering, never mind how harsh?

The title is very apt. When we call someone a hero, we reveal what we deem worthy of honor. Some heroes seem pre-chosen for us, whether by incomplete textbooks or their being buried in the Libingan ng Bayani, but Joaquin's book thrusts back the responsibility of choice to us, forcing us to re-examine not only their lives, but our own values. In the words of Jerrold Tarrog's film, "Bayan o sarili?" (Country or self?) Do we even dare answer?

This should be required reading in every college history curriculum, for every teacher!

P.S. I thought the ending was particularly praise-worthy, from a literary standpoint: Joaquin summarized the Revolution WITH JUST ONE SENTENCE that spanned 2 and a half pages!!!

He began with "It had been a long day, beginning deep in the small hours, in a silence secret with strange noises" and ending with "for, now, with none to hail another crack of doom at dawn and, now, with the dawn forever in suspense until it break, again, with a cry, a crash, a clamor (and a coil of smoke from a battlement), the nameless faces now sinking into darkness but seem a waste of history, the toll of time."
Profile Image for Danielle Austria.
15 reviews4 followers
July 15, 2020
Were History taught to be examined and not memorized, I would've engaged with it more. (Better late than never?)

Ours is a country given to (being ruined by?) idol worship; this book challenges that culture. In reality, our heroes were all too human—not always valiant, not all total romantics about the idea of a free nation. To uncover and accept their faults do not take away from their worth in history; it makes them richer subjects for study. (It makes them, dare I say, "relatable". I am a millennial after all.)

If anything, I just wish Joaquin used footnotes for reference as some of the "revelations" were a bitch to fact-check, but he is quick to tag rumors as they were. (Should you pick it up, remember that this is a book of essays and not a textbook.) A must-read!
Profile Image for Darlene A.
20 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2016
from burgos to ricarte. the revolution that was started by the ilustrados. from spanish to japanese occupation i question myself are we really free?
Profile Image for Bianca (The Ultimate Fangirl).
215 reviews35 followers
November 16, 2021
Nick Joaquin really said, "Let's put these men back to the ground where they belong." But much more eloquently.

A Question of Heroes overall is a sequence and critique on the the men that lead the revolution that changed our history. It's with these heroes' flaws that the course of Filipino history became clear, and how these men are not just about their achievements, but also their fatal actions.

The more you read into it, the more these people become fully fledged morally gray characters. Our independence failed not only because of the agreement between two superpowers, but because of flimsy leadership, a sense of clanship, and various other traits that Filipinos still carry until today.

So next time you put someone on a pedestal, ask yourself why. Bakit nga ba? When some of these figures themselves are hesitant in what was taught to us in school.

Rizal thought a revolution was premature.
Bonifacio let his Manila boy attitude get the best of him.
Aguinaldo played the favorite card too much.
Mabini embodied Pilosopo Tasyo a bit too much.
Luna let his arrogance fly.
Goyo became too vain.

It really doesn't hurt to touch grass sometimes.
Profile Image for Mika.
249 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2021
It took me awhile to finish this book. However, this got me wishing that this book was discussed back in school. What a masterpiece this book is! I would totally keep this with me and reread as I grow older. The chapter on Luna and Del Pilar really got me pausing once in awhile just so I could shut the book gently and cuss Aguinaldo and Mabini out.🙈 I really loved the book so much. Nick Joaquin is a Philippine treasure and if I could revise the entire Philippine school curricula, I would include his books in our school system just so this book would be read and discussed by our students.
Profile Image for Jason Friedlander.
112 reviews9 followers
January 3, 2021
Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes pushes back strongly against the institutionally augmented narratives and themes that run through Philippine history, both deflating the hagiographies popularly championed by many a nationalist historian, and introducing a new way to fit them into a grander and more complex story of revolution that does not end with the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo in Palanan in 1901, but further down the line with the death of Artemio Ricarte in 1945.

I’m really glad that I was able to read many other history books before this one, especially the works of Teodoro A. Agoncillo (to whom Joaquin often seems to be directly rebutting), because it helped me appreciate just how subversive and fresh Joaquin’s writing was (and still is), and especially how important it is to have well-written and researched retorts or counterbalances to narratives so entrenched and established that we've ended up taking them as fact.

Fascinating stuff, really glad that this and Culture and History continue to be reprinted every few years.
August 13, 2022
Nick Joaquin is such a storyteller. The way he revealed things in this book would surely make you reflect on your own story. We should not repeat history and this is the kind of book that gives answers. There is context to every motive and it’s refreshing to see the Philippine Heroes as men of their time, person in a different context, ordinary like me. I may not be able to look at our heroes in the same way but I will fight for the Philippines all the same.
Profile Image for ☼Marian☼.
110 reviews20 followers
June 6, 2022
A must-read for every Filipino. In textbooks, these heroes are glorified, worth emulating. Nick Joaquin stripped them bare from all the glories, made them more human and tragic. A very interesting read.
Profile Image for Jason Sta. Maria.
52 reviews8 followers
August 22, 2011
This book is a must read for every Filipinos who really wants to know the real story of our history. There are lots of different, hidden and underground stories in this book about the real scenarios and personalities of our heroes. I have already had a conversations with different Historians and History Majors regarding the real story of our history but I found out that there's really a lot of hidden stories out there and there's a lot of stories that the average Filipino didn't knew or taught from school, some of the stories were just scripted and not real. But I didn't mean that all of them are not real but there's really a lot of important things that we should know. That's why I really recommend this book for every Filipino whom is concern about our history.
Profile Image for Emy Ruth.
31 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2018
Heroes are not just wax figures we adore and worship; more than anything, they are human beings first and are therefore prone to mistakes and failures. What makes them heroes are not the achievements they did, but mainly by how we want them to be-- strong, undaunted, smart, fearless, and many more. The sad but also beautiful realization is that our heroes are a reflection of the whole Filipino race-- fearless but doubting, strong but weighed too much by our pakikisama, resilient to a fault, and smart but easily conquered by our ties to patronage. Unless we conquer or even use our weaknesses to something good, we'd end up blindly following people who promise more but never deliver.
February 28, 2016
A different angle of Philipline History.However,I think Rizal's Retraction should be added,Aguinaldo's faggotism and A.Luna association with Ysidra etc.This consequently can burn the flame better,questioning their heroism.
Profile Image for John Santos.
1 review1 follower
February 27, 2019
A very interesting perspective of many of the Philippines’ heroes. I especially liked how the individual essays were organized in such a way that often two intertwined personalities are juxtaposed to one another. It gives a good way to see their how their lives compare to one another.
97 reviews9 followers
August 20, 2007
nick joaquin should be read by pinoys. he provides an excellent combination of storytelling and history. led an interesting bohemian life. this is history by one of our finest writers.
Profile Image for Ramzzi Fariñas.
158 reviews21 followers
July 2, 2021
Five stars (again) for Nick Joaquin, because A Question of Heroes is nothing but a true, literary precision of a journalist on Philippine history. Every essay here resonates brilliant prose, no holds barred-questioning, and beyond substantial biographical chronicling which, in the long run—there is no longer a need for a biography for the ten “National Heroes” of our country. One should read (if not, start) with this book, and everything will follow, if Philippine history is the great undertaking.

Joaquin had the edge to subvert the status quo of the study among them, and every paragraph rendered was whipped with his signature Joaquinese long sentences, rhetoric which is both modern but beaming with Spanish candor, and explosive literary references which made it all more on fire. Our National Artist is nothing but an amazing author: authoritative but assured, bold but far from being an outsider in studying our history almost forgotten and neglected, and again, a prose so erudite and sharp he could duel (and eventually, he put him down) Bonifacio and his iconic bolo.
The only downside of this book was that, Joaquin never credited his resources, no notes (perhaps to avoid being academic and dull), or some end-credits on how every critique was formulated. He did mention in the paragraph per se the very lines he quoted, but even so, everything was not noted accordingly.

I should not fail to mention either, his harsh and too dismissive critique on Bonifacio’s role and rigor in the Philippine Revolution; more so, he had to give the laurels to the Ilustrados and frame (though his argument merited a right to present it) that the Philippine Revolution was installed all because of them. Simply put, the heroic figures of proletariat and the middle class were pretty much disregarded, for Joaquin believed that the Ilustrados themselves had the intellect, the means, the persistence, and even the right mix of contradictions, not in being a hero, but the anti-hero. Undermining the leaders from the masses had put Joaquin in a hot seat, though even he was not dull, not passive, and perhaps, could even be the greatest prose author to delve into Philippine history—it is without a doubt his undermining could raise eyebrows and leave him outside the arena of the said intellectual dimensions as he was an anti-historian-historian to begin with—an anti-hero among heroes and historians.

Post-script: It is still a curiosity for me if I could uphold this book so much, even though, I am looking still if Joaquin’s history book had been scientific enough, or if not, he didn’t subject Bonifacio too much and too hard (though Aguinaldo and Mabini shared the same fate). In the end, historical analysis warrants a scientific approach, and Joaquin seemed never to concede on following that flow. A beaming book of information and interrogation, I wonder regardless, why Emilio Jacinto was left out. Jacinto is nothing but a brilliant writer of the Philippine Revolution. Or was it that, Joaquin never saw any faults from Jacinto that he left him out in this dissection? Jacinto should have been discussed, no matter if he lived a short life, no matter if he did nothing contradictory or erroneous. As I see it, an essay of him should have been the balancing point of this essay-collection, not solely reacting to Bonifacio’s failure which represented nonetheless, the proletariat-middle class line. Because in an overall assessment, the Ilustrados were bourgeoise, and Joaquin had given them the dais which renders a divisive portraiture.
Profile Image for Rafael Ruflo.
10 reviews
August 17, 2021
"...a many-splendored genius who became the greatest hero of his nation". No, Joaquin did not write that, that's the opening sentence in Zaide's book. In that book -and in most Filipino historians'- our heroes are set on a pedestal worthy of worship. Joaquin, tongue in cheek and beer in hand, would rather present them warts and all. His opening line is (depending on which side of the fence you'd rather straddle) more intriguing (or scandalous), more engaging (or blasphemous) and interesting (or seditious): "The martyr as hero by accident is a recurring irony in our history".

Although the book is subtitled as "Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History" and each essay is presented as a stand-alone, I highly recommend that these be read chronologically. Setting the theme of the book is the first question on one of the 3 secular priests whose death inspired the revolution (Rizal literally dedicated his Fili to them): "How Filipino was Burgos?", and appropriately ends with "When Stopped the Revolution?". Reading the chapters in order makes you more invested in our heroes, gives the buildup to that famous last paragraph momentum, and in that epic last paragraph montage, brings a tear in your eye and goosebumps all over.

Not all appreciated Joaquin's audacity (or insolence, depending on which side of the fence...). Prominent historian, Teodoro Agoncillo dissed that it's "written without the historian's rigid training"; but most, like me, appreciate that Joaquin stuck his neck out to ask the verboten. Jerrold Tarog, who created one of my all-time fave historical films, Heneral Luna (a deconstruction of Luna as an anti-hero), used Joaquin's book as a reference and guide. In his article in The Daily Inquirer, Ambeth Ocampo said of these bashers that "they didn’t want heroes of flesh and blood, heroes with feet of clay".

Personally, I don't think that our heroes were diminished by Joaquin's questions, rather, I believe that the only too human frailties laid bare by Nick made the heroes more relevant if not relatable to our new generation who, having been weaned on graphic novels, are more tolerant if not understanding of anti-heroes (e.g. Batman, Spawn, Deadpool), or as Ocampo succinctly said, "inspired simply because they were human like you and me".
Profile Image for Roberto D..
330 reviews3 followers
February 25, 2022
Book 1 out of 200 Books (currently reading up to 200 books)
"A Question of Heroes" by Nick Joaquin

I wanted to take a break from reading books because I do feel tired so let me start this kind of challenge by rating the books that I Have read, ever since I started reading in the Year 2019.

"A Question of Heroes" follows a series of essays and other writings by Nick Joaquin, that tackles about the Questioning or the wondering of heroes of the Philippines at all.

From wondering what the nationality or blood compactness of Father Jose Burgos, one of the three priests martyred in Bagumbayan in the year 1872, to the Political quagmire that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was facing in the midst of a wartime crisis between 1899- 1901.

This book, as I wanted to rate this 3 or 4 stars, though because of its importance, I shall give it 5 stars. This book was difficult to devour, devour because all I ever wanted was to actually corroborate the information that I have on on our national heroes, as Filipinos. The tragic events of Philippine history would eventually be modeled and continued by present day Filipinos if they continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.

I wanted to express my gratitude to Nick Joaquin for writing this behemoth of a prose of a book. It would have taken years just so corroboration of historical facts yield to new discoveries in our history as Filipinos. The prose was straightforward and easily understandable for a history book. I was surprised at first that is because this book doesn't have citations and an index for other books and references but that is alright for me as an ordinary reader. Nick Joaquin's Picturesque of describing events in this book is so lugubrious yet delightful you could mistake this book's essays as novels if you haven't an ounce of context of what this book really is about.

This book should be read by Filipino students who love and gave their time to learning History and this book does serve as a Preamble to the convoluted world, understanding, studying and writing of Philippine History.
Profile Image for 空.
501 reviews7 followers
October 28, 2020
Started out fairly strong, but as I kept reading I found the book more of a downer. I think it’s legit to question history and find out more about reality, and definitely deifying heroes as without flaw is erroneous, but I was hoping that he would like, disperse some more positive subversion as the essays went along. This book is legit schooling about Bonifacio, Rizal, Aguinaldo and Mabini, but I wish Joaquin had spent some time on, for example, a hero or heroine who hasn’t gotten their due in history. That would have helped buoy me through the book instead of feeling like I was in a quicksand. I took so long to read through this because it was a drag to get through.

In the end it was like okay, here we go again, another hero who was just a fucking nerd that we shouldn’t deify, fine, I get it — and if there was any positive twist on Ricarte it was too late, it just gets lost/drowned in the prior waves of negativity.

Also, two more nitpicks: (1) sauce?? Joaquin constantly states things as facts but doesn’t provide any information about where he got it or how he can sound so authoritative about it and (2) he constantly translates “mga kapatid” as “brothers” and that really annoyed me. Is it because he’s a ~product of his time?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Anson.
52 reviews4 followers
March 18, 2019
Nick Joaquin puts everything that you think you know about the Philippine revolution and the Philippine American War under scrutiny. Though some minor information seem to have not been updated such as the Balangiga Massacre in the last chapter. (Researchers currently are questioning as to how accurate is figure for the massacre. New research shows many of the American soldiers did not even follow the kill order of General Jacob Smith). But still worth reading to gain a wider understanding to that crucial period in Philippine history.

My take away is that as flawed as our revolutionary heroes were, we should still thank them for taking a stand when they needed to. These are ordinary people asked to do the extraordinary task of creating a nation.
Profile Image for Elijah Mataac.
6 reviews
January 9, 2023
A Question of Heroes is a series of essays centered around the idea of talking about the flaws behind popular Filipino heroes in an attempt to humanize them, and most importantly make the reader think more about the men we commonly read about in history books.

Nick Joaquin talks a lot about the flaws of the men he talks about in this book but it never seems to demeaning or having the intention to ruin their reputation. He talks about it in a way that can make you empathize with them or at least to understand the person more.

He also makes a lot of controversial conclusions that he can be very persuasive about, whether you agree with him or not in his conclusions, it would be sure to give you a lot of food for thought
Profile Image for Lik C.
133 reviews6 followers
September 13, 2018
It’s an interesting read about the less known (and mostly controversial) details in the lives of our national heroes taught to us in history class. Although it’s hard to believe which account Nick Joaquin (and including him) cites has the most accurate record, he writes his essays in a convincing way for me, with occasional memorable comments like “Who would want a cry of Kangkong” on his essay about Bonifacio.

It made me question our heroes, but they didn’t choose to be made as our heroes today. Perhaps it is a question of how we glorify our heroes.

It’s also a good refresher of Philippine history for me, and I wished I’ve read this years back.
Profile Image for guiltlessreader.
368 reviews117 followers
February 16, 2020
This took me a long time to finish - I started out strong but slowly lost interest, likely because my knowledge of Filipino history is so sketchy. Written like a professor lecturing, and interspersed with Filipino and Spanish terms that had ambiguous meanings, I also noted the lack of references. If Joaquin weren’t a renowned writer, I’d have lost total faith in this version of history. In my opinion, Joaquin is better with fiction, but this was an interesting diversion into Filipino readings.

Full review soon.
Profile Image for Rainier Moreno-Lacalle.
200 reviews25 followers
May 25, 2023
A fascinating review of ten Filipino heroes. I like how the National Artist Nick Joaquin recounted the most important parts of Philippine history and its key players. The heroes of the book were portrayed with immense honesty in their character and deep admiration for what they did for the country.
Profile Image for Jarred.
1 review
March 14, 2021
Nick Joaquin provides a glaring view behind our collective notion of the Philippine Revolution. Its bleak and oftentimes unapologetic scrutinising of our national heroes grounds them not as larger-than-life figures but beings filled with regrets, impulses, compulsions, and misgivings.
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