Aging: The Fulfillment of Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen and Walter J. Gaffney: A Book Review

agingRecently, my co-teachers and I visited another co-teacher whose father had passed away in a far countryside to show  our sympathy to her families. There I  met   not only her late  father in a box  and her families but also  her grandmother. She is already old,  frail, bed-ridden, wrapped herself from head to toes despite the acrid weather. Her skin is almost  wrinkled coming  apart from her bones, and she can no longer see as her eye flaps covered her eyeballs flat  . A wave of fear and awe came over me during the wake ; then, I remembered Henri Nouwen’s philosophy of aging.

Whenever I ask my students at what age they want to kick the bucket, surprisingly,  most of their answer is anywhere between 40 and 50.  Their common reason is that aging is a nightmarish stage of life when they go through many changes such as  in emotional, social , mental , notably physical aspects. They are aware  of that geriatric life could be a rite  of  physical pains. Consequently, society tends to hand over this negative stereotype to another generation.

In this  book, Henri Nouwen  and Walter Gaffney  discusses  what is aging  and how it can be for people. According to him, there are three factors that make many old people feel ostracized: segregation, desolation, and loss of self. These factors are considered as three forms of rejection: rejection by society, rejection by friends, and rejection by  inner self.

To  extirpate  this negative meme, Nouwen explains aging by likening it to the turning of the wheel  as the gradual fulfillment of the life cycle . We should accept  this fact from the deepest part of our heart as what we pulled through  in our  young adulthood stage. To avoid  our possibility to develop geriatriphobia or fear of getting old, he  supports  his proponents by illustrating some  anecdotes to understand the real minds of being senescent. In my books after reading it,  I remain firmer in my belief that aging could be a bed of cherries and roses too. ^^

This little book is also interesting because it has 85  photographs  about things  around our environment  symbolizing  the natural ageism . Walter Gaffney must have taken them himself. They are even soothing in our eyes.

In the context of psychology,  one of the theories why we are said to fear  ageism , aside from the  physical pains we could undergo, is that we  tend to be stagnant  at this age. We  tend to ask ourselves what  needs we have done so far since we began to explore the world. Have we met the goals which we have thought to  be our satisfaction? Such as achievements in your career? or  affiliation needs in which you  have built your relationship?  In this case, experts must be in the conjunction based on  Maslow’s  theory  that in order to be happy even at the last stage of your life is that  you  will have done the goals you want to  achieve before you die. As  Mitch Albom’s professor  put it in his best-selling book Tuesday with Morries:

“ If you do not know how to live , you are afraid to die.”

Thus, fear of death could be associated with ageism.

When my students ask me the same question, I said that I want to live as long as 100. My students frowned at my answer pursing their lips. They asked me why. I just replied that there could be many things I would love to do more. I am not afraid to get older. I would not care about the physical pains I could endure. Simply but ridiculously   because I am obsessed with the books I want to read more in the next generation. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars


The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

the-fixerPOGROM is the word which can give readers an idea of what this book is all about. This means a planned killing of large numbers of people, especially Jews, usually done for reasons of race or religion. In other words, it is synonymous with MASSACRE. The book, therefore, deals with anti-Semitism during Tsarist Russia beyond my knowledge of World History.

This book breaks my heart and makes me feel for the protagonist, Yakov Bok, a Jewish fixer by trade, who dreamed to make something of himself by moving to Kiev after he was ratted out on by his wife Raisl. He was accused of murdering a Christian boy during Passover. He was jailed without official charges and maltreated like an animal, as though I wanted to help him by telling the prejudiced people that he is downright innocent of the crime. In addition, reading right smack dab in the middle of the book makes me abandon myself to the antagonists: Their cruelty, ignorance, and irrationality make me abhor them,particularly the History of Anti-Semiticism. So I am like holding hopes against hopes for Yakov; then, I am kicked in the stomach when his hopes are dashed many times,and when he is almost mentally and physically tortured. Nevertheless, I am impressed by his survival instinct and dogged-determination not to confess to the crime he did not do in spite of repeated torture and degradation.Gee,this book turns out to be a page-turner; I cannot put it down, excited and apprehensive about what may become of the protagonist at the end. Had I not been busy these past few days, I could have finished it for one night.

I would say that this book is deserving of winning the Pulitzer-Prize and National Book Awards despite the fact that Bernard Malamud was said to have plagiarized the book from Beili’ s memoir, The Story of My Sufferings from which he drew inspiration. It is steeped in Spinoza’s philosophy, existentialism, politics, and religion. At the end of the story, Yakov realized that a man is a political animal after all even if he had considered himself apolitical and a freethinker. Essentially, it deals with discrimination against Jews as well as their abject misery under pogrom period as what Bernard Malamud may have intended to tell the world since he was an American-Jewish writer. In fact, this book reminds me of notable novels written on passionate purpose by famous writers to make a big difference- Richard Wright’s Native Son  and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe on Slavery;A Passage to India  by E. M. Forrester and Noli Me Tangere  by our very own Jose Rizal on Independence Movement and so on. So Bernard Malamud’s is on Anti-Semitism .These kinds of books, regardless of writing skills , that I find remarkable and that should be heralded as good and great books are deserving of 5 stars. So I wonder why this book is not included on the list of 1001 BEST NOVELS OF All TIME EVERYONE MUST READ by The Guardian.

Deeply impressed with Bernard Malamud , I can’t help reading his another notable book, The Assistant, hailed by TIME as one of the 100 best novels of all time since 1924. ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago: A Book Review

This is my review of the best-selling  Stupid is Forever by  beloved Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago that I wrote on Goodreads  in 2014  prior to her sequel Stupid  is Forevermore.

miriamTo my GR friends,

The woman in the paperback pointing both her forefingers at each side of her forehead is the author herself, Miriam Defensor Santiago, our very own Filipino senator- politician, Ramon Magsaysay awardee- equivalent to Nobel Prize- for her moral leadership in cleaning the graft-ridden government agencies. She is not only well- known for her brave character but also for her sense of humor and witty remarks, which endeared the Filipino youth and is absolutely absent among politicians in the Philippines. To know her more, you can read all about her in the Wikipedia.

This book is a collection of the beloved senator’s jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks, and speeches.

As an avid fan of the beloved senator, I always keep track of her personal and political life through magazines, newspapers, especially through her official website. Gee, I must be enchanted by her so-called “Miriam Magic”. Thus, for an arm chair reader , there is nothing new to this book. I am almost familiar with her epigrams and speeches. So , I was almost close to giving it 1 star forgetting my passionate support for her. hahaha

Another thing that adds to my disappointment is the latent intention of the book. ( It’s just as well that it did not let me down. ) If I were a political analyst, I would opine that this book must be intended for political reasons. There are some parts the beloved senator expressing her presidential aspirations in 2016. For instance, at the end of the ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“…Her complete resume can be found at the end of this book.”

Usually, the senator is in the habit of bragging about the records of her academic excellence and professional achievements when she attempted to run in 1992, or whenever she locks horns with her political enemies. No doubt the title of the book bespeaks the beloved senator’s intellectual hubris.

In her resume, an anonymous writer seems to be putting her name on the pedestal. He/she briefly states her brilliant life as a law student in the Philippines and abroad, as a competent government official in the Congress. I find this part “apparently defensive”.

Despite the mesmerizing hidden political propaganda, I teased out the good intentions of the beloved senator, which predisposed me to giving it 4 stars. The beloved senator wants to educate voters about the incoming presidential election in 2016: She wants us to vote wisely . Reading it is like as though we listen to her speeches on the stump. But before that, she has to regale us with her pick –up lines to catch our full attention. At that time, all the kidding aside, we have to take her at her word seriously.

The book is divided into three speeches with different pick-up lines. Her first speech is on social media encouraging the students or all Filipinos to use social media as a weapon against any means of electoral fraud in 2016. The second part is the real meaning of leadership ( which caused me have a rude awakening) , how the youth should apply it to choosing our next leaders. Finally, of dreams , how it is not a “ mission impossible” to gain our shared goals.
All the rage at the end of her speeches is her inspiring poems she must have selected herself.

The beloved senator is an accomplished writer. She has written 19 books in law and social sciences. As far as I know, she is still finishing the new edition of her law book. Also, she has written two of her autobiographies. Alas, I have not read them yet. In fact, this book is the sequel to her well-received The Miriam Dictionary.

My hat is off to you ma’am. I may not know the real political circus in the Philippines, but whatever decision you will have made by 2016, your fans and I will absolutely support you. Mabuhay! ^_^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

Stupid is Forevermore by Miriam Defensor Santiago : A Book Review

stupid-is-forevermore-cover_This is the sequel to   our  beloved Senator Miriam  Santiago’s Stupid is Forever ( 3 stars ) as  it was launched on her 70th birthday celebration on June 15. The title is still the same; it was only added with  the word ” MORE”  to imply that the beloved senator   has another sack  of jokes and epigraphs. But the color of the paperback  is now reddish as one of the common colors  of her attires she wears when she attends the senate meetings. As a rule, the contents of the books are more on her jokes  , epigraphs, and speeches which had been earmarked for this sequel. In the end, I find it somehow redundantly entertaining but worth reading in disguise.  Thus, I have been disappointed for the second time except  her short story , The Exorcism of the Ghost, an excerpt from her well-received then The Frabjous Days and other Short Stories.

In effect, if you are such an avid fan of the beloved senator  like me , obsessed with her  on a daily basis, wanting to know everything she does , it  may be in politics or in her personal life as though you are a cyber stalker  , you are undoubtedly  familiar with the contents  from  cover to cover. You have read all her witty jokes and political tirades, speeches ,  and her bio data just by means of internet access. Definitely, you  check  her website . Here you can read all the statements  she makes  in the press since she  became a senator. If you want another blown-by-blown details , you can visit the site of the Philippine Senate. There you can check the senator’s archives .  To pick the newspapers commentators’ brains  , just type  Miriam Santiago  and search it  by clicking News on Google or Yahoo. All the information you want to keep track of  is accessible in the internet. Tataaan! You are now undoubtedly a Miriam freak. ( laughs)

The pattern used in  writing this book is the same as the opinion I teased out of  her Stupid is Forever. First, before  she delivers her speech  on the stump, the senator as a rule will regale you with her witty jokes to break the ice. For sure, you will be knocked out off the aisle. Then, just  all the kidding aside, you will listen to her inspiring and educating speeches although a little steeped in political issues. Finally, she will leave us  some lines of quotes she must have selected herself. Her speeches I have read but still worth reading  have something to do with life.  


Here I cottoned to William Arthur Ward’s quotes:

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”


Here I learned her philosophy:

“Life is a consequence of our moral choices.”  

What  sparked my interest is her preface and short story The Exorcism of a Ghost, a selected story in her autobiography The Frabjous Day. I have always wanted to read her autobiography as I was wondering how she is  as good at writing a story as she is witty at her speeches. To my astonishment, our beloved Senator Santiago’s intellectual hubris, indeed,  reflects in the above-mentioned short story. Now I understand. “ “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here“ ( laughs )

Her preface:

The Moron

See the Happy Moron,

He doesn’t give a damn!

I wish I were a moron –

My God! Perhaps I am!


I also opined in my review of her Stupid is Forever that the book is intended for her  hidden political agenda to run for presidential aspirations in 2016. Obviously, this book – in my humble opinion- still completely resembles the former ,  hyping  up her records of  academic excellence  and professional  achievements; at the same time, with some pictures of hers showing her aura of bold and moral character as well as her massive intellect in the legal fields.

The beloved senator has not been in the press for a few months as though she had faded into the night like Batman , nor has she been able to attend the senate sessions ( despite the fact that she has the highest number of bills passed in the higher congress.) In fact, she was not able to attend the  launching of this, her second book; rather , it was launched on the market on her 70th birthday.  She must still be struggling with her stage- 4 lung cancer as she is dog-determined to recover, for she might plan to run in 2016.

Dear our Beloved Senator:

Whatever your plan in 2016 is , we,  your fans, will always  give you our all-out support. But for the sake of your health, we had rather you did not plan to do so; we had rather you took a rest, enjoyed  in your 70’s  by spending time with your family and grandchildren , or sat in a rocking chair crocheting as you once joked before when asked whether you would run or not in 1992. Politics  as you are aware of is  dirty. We may not know your personal intention why you want to become president, but what you have  done for the Philippines is enough to awaken us, your disciples you have intellectually enlightened by means of your political idiosyncrasies  beyond  the hoi polloi ‘s understanding.

To look cool, it is about time you wrote your own literary piece  as what you wanted to do when you were still young. May be when you make one, it could be bound to being  a short list in any  international literary awards as what you flaunted  whenever you got into an international  event. ^^

Get well soon, our beloved Senadora. We, your fans , miss you a whole lot.

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It is ok. )

Eating Fire and Drinking Water by Arlene J. Chai: A Book Review

arlene1Arlene Chai is a Filipino-Chinese author who migrated to Australia during the political chaos in 1982. Due to her martial law experience, she is known for her skills in weaving the political problem in the Philippines to her fictions. Her first novel THE LAST TIME I SAW MOTHER became a best-seller in Australia and was eventually published in the USA, the UK, and the Philippines.

The style of the story is very typical of a Filipino novel. It deals with the regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos as well as the modern socio-political culture and values at that time. The story primarily centers around the self-discovery of the main character, Clara Perez, an amateur newspaper reporter, about the origin of herself. Then, she will be involved in the political life of the activist, Luis Bayani.

Obviously, Arlene J. Chai wants to depict the political life of the late President Marcos, along with former First Lady, Imelda Marcos although Chai does not directly refer to them. But through the characters, plots, and settings she used, I could guess their representation:

1. El Presidente = The late President Ferdinand Marcos
2. Madam= Former First Lady Imelda Marcos. In the novel, she is depicted as “imeldific”.
3. Loyola University= it could be Ateneo de Manila University or University of the Philippines-Diliman
4. Lacson Bridge= The bridge across the Pasig River
5. Smokey Mountain= Payatas Dumpsite
6. Colonel Aure=he could represent the butchers of Marcos.
7. Luis Bayani= He could be Benigno Aquino Sr. However; he does not completely resemble him. It must be a twist or other heroic figure at that time.

What I liked about this novel is that it has many beautiful passages. It only proves that Chai has what it takes to be a good writer. However, the only problem is the plots of the story. There are some garden-variety parts which I found hackneyed. They appear to be “deadwoods “and “hedging words’ which lost my excitement. I guess I ‘m almost familiar with them such as telltales, legends, a part that an aristocratic mother hates a beautiful poor girl whom her son will fall for, or a part that a child was adopted by a covenant of nuns, and blah blah blah. Uhmmm. I understand that these kinds of situations are very common in the Philippine culture, but patawarin ako( forgive me) , I’m fed up with them. I wish she had focused on the topic about the Martial Law. If it were not its cute, feminine, and colorful paperback, I would not have  been  driven to finish it. ^^

Rating : 2/ 5 stars

America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan: A Book Review

america_prevIn the midst of reading or right after you  ( Filipinos) have read it, you may conclude that Carlos Bulosan ‘s personal accounts of his childhood experiences as well as his abject misery in America appear to be OVER EXAGERRATED , or far from the reality. I thought so, for I was not aware of the real situations among OFW’s. But you may come to the deeper realization that Carlos Bulosan must have had personal reasons: This book could serve as an eye-opener not only to the Filipino immigrants but also to the others elsewhere as well.

It almost pulled at my heartstrings. Poor Allos! If his autobiographies as well as his other works had been published while he was going through the grinding poverty, teeth-gnashing cruelty and stoical discrimination in America, I might have said, “ I didn’t know.” I wish the government of the Philippines had said it herself, or so did America. However, they turned their backs on or deaf to the reality, for I guess they must have been busy preparing for the WWII.

Carlos Bulosan bears a little resemblance to Richard Wright, one of my favorite authors. Like R. Wright, Carlos Bulosan also dreamed of freedom from the unjust socio-political system. H e also dreamed of being educated by reading omnivorously since his parents bent on sending him to school. He also went through difficulties in surviving the fittest. However, unlike R. Wright who had a chance to be known among the literati, Carlos Bulosan never did. Poor Carlos! If it had not been the poverty, he could have been educated as well as gained a name in the Philippine literature. He could have become a doctor as what he wanted to be when he was still young. He would not have held onto the edge of a knife by leaving the Philippines for the “American dream.” Alas, he ended up as poor and TB-stricken.

Honestly, after having read it, I became more nationalistic and chauvinistic; I love my native land more. When I got into the deeper part of the story, I can’t deny the fact that I was furious at Americans, felt like putting the blame on them why my countrymen as well as other Asians suffered a lot, not even before but until now. Well, I can’t blame them, for they may be the avatars and archetypes of stereotypes. Their history fashioned their hegemonic attitude. After all, I thought – since I am not much well-read about the world history- that Black Americans were not the only center of cruelty and discrimination. There are such things elsewhere after all.

I remembered two things while I was reading it:

(a) My childhood. I also lived in a province. I knew how it is like to live in a remote rural place. I have experienced what Carlos Bulosan did: toiling land with a carabao, selling vegetables and fish, walking to a far distance, bar exchange, and so on.
(b) My parents. My parents both lived in their own provinces; their attitudes are provincial. Although they are not educated, they use their common sense to live with dignity, to sacrifice for our sakes. ^^

I think this book should be highly recommended not only to OFW’s, but also to students.This book should never be forgotten, for it reflects in the dark society in the past.

Rating : 5/ 5 stars

The Book of Deadly Animals by Gordon Grice: A Book Review

animalWhoa! Finishing it is like making an exit from a vast zoo of the deadly animals.I could not help it. Gordon Grice took me on a tour of the different animal kingdoms. Passing each ghastly kingdom awoke me to the reality more that living on this earth is not ideally safe after all. Everyone could be a victim of brutal predation. In fact, I got giddier and more terrified when I came upon the kingdom of nematodes. God forbid! How terrible the world is! No matter how hygienic we try to be, we can be susceptible to invisible living organisms.

I revere Gordon Grice for his enthusiasm for and dedication to studying or “psychologizing” all kinds of animals although he is not a known scientist. Reading his book gives me the idea of how he is such an animal lover.

There are two messages Gordon Grice wants to imply in his book. First, there are no such harmless animals. Even ordinary or domesticated animals are unpredictable; they can pose danger to us. Second, since animals are not as intelligent as we are, they can be aggressive in humans only based on biological drives. However, they can learn so once we, humans, no longer draw the line. In other words, psychology works on them too.

The book, however, is not utterly educational or informative more than I expected. It is awash with brutal predation and traumatic experiences of the victims who fell prey to deadly animals. So when you read it, you might hold your breath for every instances of heinously symbiotic food chain among animals. Nonetheless, the farther you go, the sicker you become of knowing the first-hand accounts. Enough said! I guess Gordon Grice only shares sparse information. Thus, my brain was not completely satiated. Perhaps no sooner had I seen the title THE BOOK OF….than the first idea occurred to me was that the book was encyclopedic with trivia or facts I may not have been cognizant of. Rather, I enjoyed learning the new vocabulary words, especially the proper collective nouns for the animals. In addition, the book is well written.

I am a certifiable ailurophile. I love cats. I have got two domesticated cats. Also, I could be such an animal lover. If I were well-to-do, I might pet as many as I could although I’m aware of the facts G. Grice wants to apprise us of. Like what I learned from biology subjects, I believe that in order to avoid such ineluctable “devourers”, we must be more responsible for balancing the nature, for we are the highest mammal in the kingdom animalia. Sad to say, we are still incorrigible.

Rating : 3/ 5 stars