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Dwell In The Wilderness: Selected Short Stories

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A collection of short stories written between 1931 and 1941, when he was 19 to 30 years old, prior to his going to the United States to "specialize in English and learn to write under American experts."

116 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Bienvenido N. Santos

19 books47 followers
Bienvenido N. Santos was born in Tondo, Manila, on March 22, 1911. When Santos started school, the Philippines was already a colony of the United States and instruction was in English. In his early attempts at creative writing, Santos developed an ear for three kinds of communication: Pampango in the songs his mother sang at home; English in the poems and stories his teacher read at school; and Tagalog in the street life of the Tondo slums.

Santos left for America in September 1941 as a pensionado (scholar) of the Philippine Commonwealth government. Thirty years old and an established short story writer in English at home, he enrolled at the University of Illinois in the master's program in English. When war broke out in December, he found himself an exile in America, cut off from his homeland and his wife and three daughters he left behind. The heartbreak of this separation during his first sojourn in America is crucial to Santos's development as a writer.

Exile defined the central theme of his fiction from then on. In the summer of 1942, he studied at Columbia University with Whit Burnett, the founder of Story magazine, who published his first fiction in America. After studying Basic English with I.A. Richards at Harvard in 1946, Santos returned home to a country rebuilding from the ruins of war. He came back to America in 1958 as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. His first two novels, Villa Magdalena and The Volcano, written under a Rockefeller grant and a Guggenheim fellowship, were published in Manila in 1965, the year Santos won the Philippine Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature.

In 1972, Santos and his wife Beatriz were on their way to the Philippines to "stay home for good," when news of the declaration of martial law reached them in San Francisco. The new regime banned The Praying Man, his novel about government corruption, and he was once again exiled from his home. From 1973 to 1982, Santos was Distinguished Writer-In-Residence at Wichita State University. In 1976 he became a U.S. citizen. His short story, "Immigration Blues," won the best fiction award given by New Letters magazine in 1977. In 1980, the University of Washington Press published Scent of Apples, his first and only book of short stories to appear in the United States. The next year it won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Santos died at his home in Albay on January 7, 1996.

Santos's stories can be grouped into three literary periods. The first period, the prewar years in the Philippines (1930-1940) are set in the fictive Sulucan slums of his Tondo childhood and the rural towns and villages in the foothills of Mayon volcano in Albay, where Santos married Beatriz Nidea, started his family, and built his house. These stories are in the collections Brother, My Brother and Dwell in the Wilderness. Santos's exile in America during the war years produced stories set in Chicago, Washington, New York, and other cities, where he lectured extensively for the Philippine Commonwealth government in exile. You, Lovely People, The Day the Dancers Came, and Scent of Apples belong to this period. In the postwar years Santos set his stories in different places as he commuted between the Philippines and America. These years mark a period of maturation and experimentation, and a shifting away from the short story to the novel form.

His use of memory--or, rather, a fictionalized memory--evokes empathy for his characters. A variation of this technique is Santos's use of other "I" narrators, like the Pinoy old-timer Ambo, he of the trembling hands ("The Door" and "The Faraway Summer"), or Tingting, the tennis player, in the San Francisco novel. But even with the voices of Ambo and Tingting, the stories are told from within, as if Santos had been inside them and felt their pain. Santos believed it was important for a writer to feel compassion for his characters: "When you have cr

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2 reviews
January 14, 2016
weunity which the tightness of the short story or the discipline of the novel would have destroyed. With one convention thrown by the board, the book acquired its own.” Indeed, this collection hovers comfortably over the line of non-fiction and fiction. This collection is semi-autobiographical, culled from Santos' own experiences in America. It is also apparent that Santos is writing the character of Ben as himself. However, what keeps this collection from being classified as a memoir is its fleshing out of a plethora of characters, giving faces and voices to names which, in the real course of events, were usually just mere subjects of gossips and stories the author must have picked around his wanderings. An example of this would be the character of Julia, the waif who was abandoned by her American husband, leaving her their child. She was in the headlines of the Time Magazine because of her story. What most people know about her is that she nursed a dying American soldier back to health and they went back to the States with a child, but the young man's family shunned the colored woman. But Santos took this little character and through her thoughts, painted a pure and heartbreaking image of the beauty of the Filipina, selfless and loving. The story “Scent of Apples” is probably the piece Santos is most well-known for. It has been included in many anthologies since its publication. The story is widely discussed by standard Phil Lit. classes, often out of the context of this collection. Many would not know at first that “Scent of Apples” is initially an integral part of a bigger work, namely “You Lovely People”. The “stories” in this collection could be described as “stand-alone” chapters at best, coming together to form a piece of a much wider scope, something not as taut as the novel, yet achieves the kind of organic unity that is just needed for the subject matter. As we read further into the stories told by Ben and Ambo, it is slowly realized that these are not just stories driven by a big event or a series of events, thus the structured short story and novel wherein a climax is often mandatory is not really called for. There really is no resolution in these stories, just a sense of wholeness and if one allows, completion.

The binding themes of this collection of stories are isolation and loneliness. Santos’ Filipino expatriates are plagued by nostalgia for a past that can never be brought back and by gnawing desire for home. In "Scent of Apples", Celestino Fabia comes all the way from his small farm to hear a fellow Filipino talk. He hasn’t seen another Filipino in years. Fabia asked the first question whose answer matters to him the most: “Are our Filipino women the same like they were twenty years ago?” Such is his nostalgia for his homeland that he is still concerned about something that will never have anything to do with him anymore. Fabia still clings to any footholds he had left of his homeland, like the old photograph of a Filipina he kept all these years. Fabia’s life is relatively good. He has a faithful American wife, Ruth, who once braved the cold to get help for his appendicitis. He has an abundant harvest of apples, so plentiful that the excess fruits are fed to the pigs. But despite all this, his longing for the home which probably had already forgotten him kept him from enjoying all these abundance and fortune. He doesn’t realize that this longing and love he feels for this home is unreciprocated. This strong and unsatisfied nostalgia causes great loneliness and isolation to the likes of Fabia, and even makes them exiles among exiles.

The story “The Door” explores the lost of trust and faith. Delfin is very well aware that his American cheats on him. He spends many nights waiting outside the locked door of their apartment as his wife entertains some strange men inside. He doesn’t do anything about it because of his love for his wife. His Filipino friends scorn him for not standing up for himself. One Christmas night, Ambo was invited to the apartment by Delfin’s wife. He agrees because he is very fond Delfin’s two little girls.
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