Monday, December 19, 2011
Soledad's Sister - by Jose Dalisay
Upon the recommendation of a friend, I read Soledad's Sister by Butch Dalisay with great expectations of a page-turning mystery thriller but found myself extremely disappointed. It is not to say that the prose is not beautifully written, but I probably went into it with a different set of expectations altogether. Shortlisted for The Man Asian Literary Prize, the book's murder mystery plot could have fit into 3 pages tops. Instead, the book is essentially a set of historical flashbacks of the stories behind the characters. Soledad, an OFW with a bitter past, mysteriously dies while she is out of the country and her body arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in a casket. Policeman Walter Zamora is assigned to drive her sister Aurora all the way from their hometown in Paez (6 hours from Manila) to the airport to pick up the body. While in Manila the body is stolen. The tour through the lives of a collage of people from PInoys to Chinese also include those of an airport security guard, a car thief known as "Boy Alambre", the teenage son of Soledad's employers in Hong Kong, and Soledad's companion maid in Jeddah.
The novel makes wide references to Pinoy pop culture, such as places, personalities, and music in the 80s and 90s, so much that it reminds me of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Ruffa Guitierez, Sharon Cuneta, Regine Velasquez, Megamall, Reader's Digest, Brother Mike, Whitney Houston, Olivia Newton-John, are just some of the people and places the novel refers to.
However, when I saw it in National Bookstore I said, "No, this can't be it." The look of the book was a disappointment to me. This Man Asian Literary Shortlister came in a very thin paperback format, in thin brown NEWSPRINT paper that didn't do justice to the cover artwork by Jason Moss, whose artwork also illustrates Nick Joaquin's books. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Pinoy Reader, Pinoy Literature is as good as international literature, and we should present it as such. If we are not confident about our own literature how can we then expect other nationalities to take it seriously as well?