Harry Rutherford's Reviews > Noli Me Tángere

Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal
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Feb 14, 2012

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bookshelves: around-the-world, south-east-asia, pacific

Noli Me Tangere is described on the back cover as ‘The novel that sparked the Philippine revolution’. Which sounds a bit hyperbolic, but apparently the publication of the novel in 1887 was an important moment; even more so, Rizal’s subsequent execution for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.

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

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

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

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

Noli Me Tangere is my book from the Philippines for the Read the World challenge.
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Reading Progress

February 14, 2012 – Started Reading
February 14, 2012 – Shelved
February 14, 2012 – Shelved as: around-the-world
February 21, 2012 – Finished Reading
February 22, 2012 – Shelved as: south-east-asia
February 22, 2012 – Shelved as: pacific

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Yna Fempia (new)

Yna Fempia Paez The exaggeration of the friars and the Catholic Church's dominion over the Indios that was portrayed in the novel was partly also due to personal life experiences that Rizal was experiencing whilst writing this novel. At that time, while he was trying to finish this book abroad, somewhere in Spain or Berlin, Germany (I'm very sorry I cannot recall accurately), his family suffered from persecution. Think of the persecution of Crisostomo Ibarra and his family (father). That was what was truly happening with him in real life during that time. The tragedy of losing Maria Clara also mirrored Rizal's lost love with a certain Leonor Rivera who was made to marry a Spanish mestizo. Is this too much of a spoiler? Sorry..

message 2: by Yna Fempia (new)

Yna Fempia Paez I'd recommend you read Rizal's biography. It is much more interesting than his novels. :)

Harry Rutherford Yna Fempia wrote: "I'd recommend you read Rizal's biography. It is much more interesting than his novels. :)"

Yes, that's probably often the way. :)

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