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.)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison : A Book Review

invisible manI  started to read  it in December last year,  but eventually  I found it   too cumbersome and hefty  to absorb since my mind was still saturated with personal concerns at that time, so it wound up  unfinished on my study table , collecting dust  , biding its time to be read  until its leaves are turning crispy. Then , I realized that  it is about time I  cleared out my currently-reading shelf to work up more appetite for  the other to-read books. It is a burden on my part   to put a heap of  unfinished books aside, or it looks like  as though I had a Mahabharata list of currently-reading books.

History has  proven that living in a suppressing  nation where you  have no absolute  freedom , where its  atmosphere restrains  your desires from expressing  your thoughts and feelings, where you are not valued, where you are degraded and debased  as if  you were the  disgusting “invisible”  dregs of humanity, brings about revolution in any manners. Some well-known leaders have stood up  by  means of the iconic Mahatma Gandhi ‘s  principles of civil disobedience or “by any necessary means”  immortalized  by the late  black activist Malcolm X.  In a subliminal or passive way, some   have  channeled  their pent-up  grievances through writing books such as   novels which  could in effect change a particular cause  , and this  is at what Ralph Ellison  must have aimed .

Ralph Ellison is not far different from Richard Wright, the author of the Native Son that astounded me to the bone. Both of them   have in common with   their ulterior  motive  why they wrote a novel about African life: to revolt. The only thing they have big difference is the  instrumental style  they used in  putting  their suppressed feelings into a novel. Richard Wright , on the one hand, wrote a suspense novel which you could feel the psychology of  racism.Consequently, the novel is heart-breaking, appalling, and sympathetic. You could feel the  psychologically  adverse effects of    slavery, discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry. On the other hand, although  Ralph Ellison used the style of R. Wright,  he  attached more importance to  allegories  or  literary devices; he used some situations and materials   in elaborating his suppressed grievances, as appeals to reasons, appeals to emotion, and  appeals to authority.   Thus, reading it was like as though you get  into two dimensions of semantics , and yet you could get at the real climax of the story: You read  the literal passages ; at the same time, they have figurative meanings. That is why I was impressed by this book- it is steeped in awakening passages; every page is worth reading, indeed.

Since R. Ellison grew out of a culture of bigotry and  availed of   his talent in writing to produce this , which he believed could have changed the  incorruptible stereotypes of white Americans about blacks  as well as awakened his fellow blacks to the reality about  divisive dilemma coming into existence among them. In this book, he simply   attached to the very simple dialogues and passages with what the “ real” problems  he  insisted on are the crucial to the desired equality. Ellison wanted to imply figuratively that there  are two groups of  blacks that prevail: one is that believe in the principle of practicality and gentle and gradual  process of raising awareness whereas the second one is consist of the people who believe in the urgent revolution in a manner of  public demonstration .

While reading it, the character,  Brother Jack reminded me of  Martin Luther King Jr. while in the half persona of  the unnamed protagonist and Ras the Exhorter , of Malcolm X. As far as I remember from the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X, King and Malcolm had  unresolved misunderstanding then, for  they had different opinions of means of  revolution against racism. For  King’s, he could get rid of  the  ulcer of society by means of  religion  using his immortal slogan I HAVE A DREAM; Malcolm X’s “ By Necessary Means.” In the other case, I could interpret that the main protagonist could be the persona of Richard Wright. Why not? Ralph Ellison was then close to him. Besides, I learned that Richard Wright once became a spokesperson of  a Communist party  based on his autobiographical novel Black  . Gee,  having read a great deal  of  books  about blacks is now causing me to  have mental bubbles of  analyses.

It is understood that this book  was written as  a revolutionary book   against freedom and equality just the likes of  what I have read :  UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by Harriet Beecher , A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E. M. Forrester, THE FIXER by Bernard Malamud, A NATIVE SON by Richard Wright, and our very own NOLI ME TANGERE ( TOUCH ME NOT )  by Jose Rizal.( I hope you give it a try. )

This is  included on 1001 Best Novels of All Time as well  as on TIME’s BEST NOVELS OF ALL TIME since 1923. I should not give it any sheer shadow of doubt because it is absolutely deserving- deserving of any special literary awards, of   your time to read it, of  being part in American studies, and of your 5 stars. ^^