NEVADA (MindaNews/23 October) — When I went home to Davao, I brought with me the book “Eat, Pray, Love.” I thought I should read it since a movie was being made based on the book. The fact that it was also featured in two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show, made me curious about it and so actively watched out for the book in the week-end yard sales I frequented. I had started reading it before I left for the Philippines. In fact, I was well over more than halfway through by the time I was in my loft trying my best to get the book off my reading list. That was in July. I finished it a week before I was scheduled to come back to America middle of September. It took me that long to finally read the last page.
The task of “getting it over with” troubled me because reading, for me, has always been like short trips outside the everyday things we live in without having to go out of the same place. It lets me breathe in new air. But that’s how I felt, like it was a task, when I opened the page where I’d left off after experiencing a sense of the book’s being less relevant to me at that time and in that place, than when I was reading it here in America.
It never crossed my mind that location may have something to do with how we perceive the books we read. When I started reading the book here, I understood the popularity it generated. About the search for a wholeness and the way to achieve a kind of internal and personal happiness without having to always put ourselves last. I was more than midway by the time I was in the Philippines. But when I proceeded to try to finish the book in Davao, I thought of how it was somehow so entirely out of sync with lives led in my home country. Like the whole thing was so self-indulgent somehow. It was not too hard to come to the conclusion that the disparity in what may be important here may not even be deemed as interesting when I am home in Davao. Even to myself. Two mindsets that existed in two geographical locations somehow influenced the way I perceived what I was reading. This was like a revelation to me because I always thought that wherever you are, if the book was really good, it was always worth the time to take it on. Maybe, most troubling to me was that I was in the middle of it and suddenly felt so un-motivated to go on and finish something which, when I started it in America, seemed so interesting. Was there an unconscious shift in my own mind while I flew the twelve-hour flight home?
It was interesting to note that even in the same person, can exist totally different kinds of “awarenesses” (for lack of a better word) that can easily migrate from one to the other, without consciously asking for it, where the geographical locus of the person reading is concerned. Or, could it also have something to do with the duality of our being raised so American in our country and thus also must be able to empathize with things American. And, at the same time, because we are also into our own Filipino issues (which are so “unlike in nature, form and quality” from ordinary American anxieties), are able to somehow cross-over to our own localized concerns with very little effort. Anyway, these are just my thoughts. It was a little disturbing because there used to be a kind of certainty in what was ‘interesting’ no matter where I was.
There was one book though, I was fortunate enough to purchase in Davao a few weeks before I left for America. I say fortunate because it would have really been a big loss if I had not looked down to the bottom-est shelf of the Literary Fiction section, and not been able to have the most wonderful experience of reading Miguel Syjuco’s “Ilustrado.”
I cannot say enough good things about it. It’s a montage of several lives in several places at different times. The language is rich and spontaneous. Very easy to read, yet full of well-rounded people whose lives may not intersect but are importantly connected nevertheless. It does not prey on the usual hard-luck journey back to his origins of a Filipino immigrant. It is, instead, personally motivated, yet touches hard on issues that children of first generation immigrants have to deal with. It is still a story of survival and deliverance, but more than that, it also asks us to look further than the physical limits of circumstances and maybe gain some insight, if not wisdom, from situations that demand something from us. This book, I started reading it the last week I was in Davao, cast such a spell on me that within a week of my return to America, jetlag and all, was completely consumed by it to the very end. I had to recommend it to my sons and daughter.
I’m thinking now, maybe “Eat, Pray, Love” came out self-indulgent to me because who in the Philippines can actually do what the writer did to gain the amount of self-discovery her book ended with anyway. Who has that much financial stability to go off and live in three countries for a whole year to be able to iron themselves out in the way the writer did? Very few I would think.
The journey of Miguel in “Ilustrado” was also personal. It was also about himself, but his self-discovery involved him in other people’s lives in ways that came off less internally generated than Gilbert’s. It was not just about him. Though in the final chapters, it was clearly his private demons that brought him to the places and the people he encountered.
At the end of the day, I guess it’s all a matter of preference. Books are repositories of other lives and other worlds. We can only gain what we can relate to. Both titles aren’t even on the same page. One is clearly literature, the other more in the self-help category which in time may just fade into a fad. Which only goes to show that popularity does not necessarily translate to quality, I hazard to guess.
But, as long as there are books to read, and pages to turn, their spines announcing titles, interesting for many or less for some, it’s all up to us to love it or leave it. Seriously though, “Ilustrado” by Miguel Syjuco is an exceptionally good read. (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Dabawenya Margot Marfori is a writer and visual artist who continues to live the Davao she loves. She taught at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao from 1996 to 2002. She is now based more times of the year in Henderson, Nevada, while her youngest son is studying at UNLV, and, where her two older children in San Francisco are near enough to visit).