Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[books] Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar

Yesterday on the plane I finished reading Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar. I was utterly charmed by this book, which won the Grand Prize in the 2005 Palanca Awards, a signal literary honor in the Philippines. I suppose the best way to describe the book is as Filipino magic realism. Salamanca holds obvious kinship to Latin American fabulism, but it stems from a different tradition.

It's a short novel, told in several sections, about the life of a fabulist writer named Gaudencio Rivera in the post World War II era. The book wanders in time and space between an isolated rural village, Manila, and various locales in the United States. The story manages not to fall into the cliched writing-about-writer traps, largely because of the intersection between lyrical style and the underlying examination of the soul of a dissolute man.

Salamanca wasn't written for an American audience. I know enough about Filipino history and culture to understand at least some of the nuances of the setting and background action, but certainly I missed far more than I caught. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, fiction serving almost incidentally as a window into another society.

I have no idea how available Alfar's book is here in the United States, but it's worth some trouble to pick up if you can. I have one or two other pieces by him that I'll be reading as time permits. In the meantime, here's a link to Alfar's short story, "L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)".

Tags: books, reviews

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