Bulosan: An Introduction With Selections by Carlos Bulosan: A Book Review

IMG_20130110_034754Carlos Bulosan caught my interest when I found out  his autobiography, America is in the Heart, in a National Book Store branch. This  book won the National Book Award in the Philippines. It was deserving of the award because  it is a novel  that the Philippines should treasure until the next generations. It is the epitome of the revolutionary books that  made a big difference in society such as Richard Wright’s Native Son, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by  Harriet Beecher. It is pregnant with heart-breaking stories  to which you might relate starting from his early childhood  until how  he managed to survive  in America. Besides, Bulosan’s writing skills  especially in  such a novel is an example of the cliché a diamond  in the rough that you would make yourself stare into the space and  finally ask how he did it ! He had never been educated before he went to America at his early teens. He was the archetype of a person who had changed  a great deal out of self-discipline and dogged determination , his willingness to transform himself into someone new. He could not have done it without his bitter, heart-breaking, abominable, gruesome , and miserable life in the USA as an immigrant who had   also dreamed of American life. Thereafter, in awe, with my jaws dropped as though I had wanted to do a somersault , bursting with excitement that I was eager to share it with my acquaintances ( but alas, most of my friends  do not have the same batty interest except my friends on Goodreads.), I said in a whisper that I would doubtless  rate it 5 out of 5 stars. 5 stars is equivalent to 100 %. In adjectives,  amazing, excellent, superb,  and impressive.

Automatically, I included his other works on my list that I would love to read more. Fortunately, I got the chance to buy  it  at  a reduced price ( 10 pesos ) when the National Book Store near my house was selling some local books on sale . In the end, it did not let me down. In fact, after reading in this book his some short stories, poems, essays, and correspondence, I  admire Mr. Bulosan more- he was an exceptional  writer.  I wish he had been brought into the world later than in the 1950’s; he could be paralleled with  the apogees  of the contemporary writers such as F. Sionil Jose , Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Lumbera, Virgilio Almario, et al. Then, I would be a Bulosonian. (laughs)

E. San Juan, Jr. , the director of the Philippines Cultural Studies Center, compiled the selections of Bulosan’s  stories, poems, essays, and correspondence. He may be an avid Bulosonian too. ^^

Most of Bulosan’s selections are the reflections on his pent-up anger and frustration for the hellish life not only did he lead   but also among his countrymen in the Philippines and abroad notably in the USA under the American colonialism. In his some short stories , the themes have something to do with how to make life better in America. In Be American, for example, Consorcio , uneducated , made a lot of effort to achieve his aspirations by working his butt off  at any cost. He even desired  to educate himself. Likewise, in The Romance of Magno Rubio, Magno , the protagonist , symbolizes himself as how he is enamored of  his white correspondent believing that she loves him and  no sooner will marry him than he gives her all things she needs . However, in the long run, both the main protagonists would realize that to be an “ Americano” as Consorcio put  it is a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’. In fact,  in The Times of Our Lives  paints the portrait of  how  the Filipino community  was  not united  in protecting their labor rights.  Some were  practical considering that they were intellectuals and  influential. ( This part could have been a lampoon at that time. ) In this case , there was an instance that a hard-up Filipino would be at the end of his tether  just the like of Cesar Terso in The Thief . In order to finish his medical studies, he stole money ; then, paid  it back by helping the destitute Filipino when he became rich , but he was suspicious of being into  illegal business  .

Bulosan also expressed in his As Long as the Grass Shall Grow  his desires to be educated  so that he could get ahead of life . Just the same, Filipinos were subject to discrimination, as a matter of course. In Homecoming, on the other hand, the last part among the short stories, is bizarre but heart-breaking. Bulosan expressed how his brother Marciano was so hapless to meet his family back from America after many years that he could not bear with the effect of his downright failure. Gee!

Among the short stories, I won’t forget about the letter his brother  had sent to his father which he kept many years  because  no one in their family then was not able to read nor understand English.

While reading all the short stories, the only voice  I could feel was Bulosan’s . I believe that he projected all the pains he had harbored on those characters, much more on the tones of the sentences.

Bulosan’s poems and essays  are also impressive .Every line  is peppered with anger, pity, hunger, pains, fear, desire- and hopes, love, determination.

His correspondence motivated me to continue my habit before: to write  a diary again. I have got an idea of what writing styles I should do. ( I hope so. I wish I had 48 hours a day. )

If you want to read it, I recommend that you first read his America is in the Heart. Eventually, you will understand why most of Bulosan’s stories, poems, and essays are so heart-rending that you might end up finding him a bad-ass  “ socialist” and “ idealist”. Bulosan went through a life paralleled with the life of  people living in a hell-hole slum such as the modernly filthy scenes in Baseco, Tondo , in Payatas or as the  ones you see in some poor places  in India, especially the life as an immigrant in America where at that time Filipinos were almost treated like Black Americans. On this account, in the end, Bulosan was like a dormant Krakatau volcano on the brink of exterminating the face of America and its adjacent ally, the Philippines,  by  letting the  lava of his literary pieces  wreak havoc on their fields of  consciousness. And somehow they did.

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

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