A holiday extra-marital affair with five books

Here are some books that I nailed these past months during my unfruitful sedentary holiday break.

Gapo by Lualhati Bautista The story is fine, has some nice moments, and it was generally an easy read (maybe because it is in Filipino?). However, I find the whole novel too Liwayway-ish, maybe too episodic, having the ‘petiks’ feel of popular pocketbook titles. Maybe this is Lualhati’s forte, being pedestrian in narration and humorous in description, making her accessible to wider audiences.  Nonetheless, compared to the tightness and dramatic impact of her other novels, most notably Dekada ’70, Gapo is more didactic, digressive, up to the point that it seems quite repetitive.
The subject matter and its treatment, however, is insightful, illuminating of the situation of the Filipinos during the time when US bases are still thriving source of jobs and livelihood in Olongapo City. It is all about colonial mentality, racism, and the connection of economic class to the frameworks of power. These issues and their tongue-in-cheek tackling maybe have made it up for the writing, at least for my own taste.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I find this highly-celebrated novel too draggy for my taste. Not because the novel is long, but rather because many themes and sequences in the novel seem to be quite bloated and stretched. I like Lieutenant Mamiya’s story and May Kasahara’s quirky character (but I find some of her philosophical rantings quite pretentious; btw she’s hot), but the thing between Toru and Kumiko is quite lame (sorry for being too vague). Of course, it is an act of self-immolation to require this kind of story to answer more questions, but when Toru started blurting out metafictional speeches, to search for ‘meaning’, however unstable it is, has become rather a chore. Good novels do not tell the readers that the novel has no meaning. Good novels are like oiled-coconuts; you grab it between your arms like crazy, but it just slips away. Murakami, however, tells us that the coconut is not what it is, because it is an orange.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley– I finished this book in quite a rush, less because it is a thin book but because the subject matter is personally interesting. I love dystopias. They challenge my utopian optimism, hehe. Huxley’s dystopic vision of the future (it is ambiguous if his dystopia is a capitalist one or a communist one, most likely both) is a cold satire of the leading ideals both from the Right and the Left. There are engaging parts in the novel, especially the debate between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond, that problematizes things such as religion, individuality, freedom, and progress.

Mustapha states his belief that everything must be sacrificed in the name of stability and happiness, even art and science. John the Savage questions this belief and argues that these things are integral to the very humanity of human beings. In a final dramatic outburst, John claims “the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” Mustapha Mond answers in a chilling gesture of fortitude, “Your welcome.”

I found a comic that made a brilliant comparison between Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. George Orwell’s work emphasized repression at the facile level—censorship, disppearances, etc— reminiscent of the Stalinist USSR and maybe even our own Marcos-era martial law. But Huxley went a step further. He recognized the fact that repression is indeed a recognition of the existence of a ‘subaltern consciousness’, a potential to revolt, and thus the need to repress. Just look at what happened in the People Power of 1986 when the people spontaneously organized to oust the dictator. Certainly, repression is the least powerful and sustainable of all acts of social manipulation as it brews dissent under its nose.  Huxley eliminated coercive repression and imagined a society wherein everyone is doped with transient pleasures and illusions of happiness, leaving the people’s capacity (and consciousness) to revolt in the dustbin of history.

This is more tragic than any Stalinist or Maost totalitarian story peddled to us by our beneficient liberal ideologists. The system cleverly uses both repressive measures and cultural doping to incapacitate the fermenting revolutions in their backyards. It’s sad that many of my fellow young people buy these illusions— ‘daang matuwid’, ‘co-operative development’, among others— making us automatons in Huxley’s almost irredeemable dystopia. But Huxley hints as sign of hope in the form of the two exiled ‘queers’. Bernard and Hemholtz are considered ‘degenerates’, crazies, deviants. Maybe Huxley instructs us to be crazy, willing to risk the pleasures and privileges of the status quo and question the logic of the system. And now I’m beginning to make some sense with my blog title. Haha.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks– My relationship with anything-related-to-zombies is like the relationship of a zombie to living flesh. And certainly Max Brooks’ little book about surviving in a zombie apocalypse is a fresh and wicked delight. Of course, technically speaking, this is not a book. It is just a manual of things, definition and classifications of zombies, how to kill zombies, and whatnot. Nonetheless it was all a breeze, as it managed to satiate my daily addiction for schlock and non-sense. It is certainly more fun in a zombie apocalypse.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie by Max Brooks– This is a collection of first-hand accounts of a global zombie plague, starting from the onset of the plague to the gradual renewal of human civilization. It comes from different perspectives— people from China, Greenland, Congo, Mexico— narrating their own grim experiences. Of course Brooks incorporates some of his obligatory social critiques against the superiority complex of the American people, totalitarianism, the absurdity of liberal democracy, rotten militarism, and whole lot of hoopla.

I like the drama and the wit in Brooks prose, and he managed to give every ‘account’ a distinct texture. Brooks may have done a ton of research on how Chinese people speak, and how African people behave in certain situations. But let me give some few points. (1) Brooks’ attempt to create a picture of a global phenomenon is too grand, leaving many gaps for racist representations of the different nationalities he incorporated in the novel; (2) His ‘research’ is obviously limited, as his representations of Islamic fundamentalism, North Korean ‘socialism’, African tribalism and American ‘angst’ are too magazine-ish, narrow and stereotypical, coming from an ideologised Western point-of-view, (3) the novel becomes stale towards the end, especially when the humans started to ‘rebuild’ civilization. I wanted zombie action, not some cheesy rebuilding drama filled with military jargons and unconvincing melodramatic monologues, (4) The novel is America-centric, with the rebuilding of civilization focused on the US, despite the seemingly tokenistic inclusion of Palestine as the final fort of human civilization.

The book, in general, is again, fun. But I felt quite emaciated with the constant smirks and spontaneous polemics warring inside my head especially when Brooks mentions something disagreeable and ill-informed. Fun, but I’d rather pick Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead or watch Dawn of the Dead again if I want to satisfy my zombie-gore needs.

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