My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon: A Memoir Review

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It’s been a month, I guess,  since the late Pulitzer-prize winner Alex Tizon’s article about Lola went  viral on social media . His article was posthumously published as the cover story of the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic .

I showed interest in reading his article when it had a ground swell of opinions that he had been complicit with his parents’ crime in a sense that he did not do anything to help her out. Rather, he did so right after his  parents kicked  the bucket. Besides, his article bears hypocrisy  inasmuch as he simultaneously  did hide her existence from his friends. Thus, his article suggests that his family, especially his parents, deprived Lola of her humanity.

After reading the article. I  found out that the “bashers” could be right that Lola had a miserable life with Alex’s family. She served them for 56 years , taking care of him and his siblings without pay,  having no  good opportunity to return to the Philippines as what his parents had promised her. The revealing and revolting   fact is that she was not even allowed to  pay respect to her parents’ death – a heart-rending situation whoever will experience  doesn’t want to miss in her/ his life.  So, who can’t be furious about this unimaginably cruel  truth?

However, the problem with the bashers is that they incriminate Alex in a crime he had been innocent of. Bear in mind that he was too young to understand the situation he found bizarre. Besides, he was too obedient to stand up to his parents who were both overweeningly ambitious.  His father was a busy business man hobnobbing with the elitists whereas his mother an inspiring doctor , striving to get a better streak. He only mustered up  enough courage to defend Lola when they both berated her for not feeding his younger sister. Therefore, pin the blame on his parents who are now somewhere in heaven.

There’s been even a speculation that Alex wrote Lola’s story  for his own interest since he was an award-winning journalist. Those bashers must be deluded into the notion that he must have wanted to put himself on the literary pedestal. Whatever it is that makes them delusional and irrational, in my book, what I see is that he must have wanted to imply that Lola could be the apotheosis of a caring “yaya” or ” kasambahay“. He must have wanted us to deeply understand the sacrifices our “katulong‘, “yaya” , and “kasambahay” does for us. Besides,  I’m pretty sure that Alex  was aware of  that what his parents’ treatment toward Lola was cruel  and inhuman. Thus, I’m pretty sure that what he wanted us to do is to  consider her  as part of the family as to what he did to Lola contrary to the ideal value his  parents  unconsciously  inculcated in him.

Given that Lola had a miserable life with the Tizon family, I do believe that Lola came to the point that she accepted her fate, for she was borne upon the idea that she was a “slave”. She learned to love the family she had served for many years. She had almost stood as the biological parents to Alex and his siblings when his parents were up to their ears in work. Also, I do believe that she was even considered part of the family based on the pictures Alex shared on the social media. Lola had sweet and wide smiles showing how she did not look like a slave but a loving and understanding grandma to them. Plus, remember, her world turned upside down when Alex’s mother was in great distress. Lola was the only one whom she could turn to for comfort. It was like a scene in a movie when the antagonist turned into a lamb, moved by the oppressed’s magnanimity.  In other words, bashers must be  grossly literally exaggerated.

Alex Tizon’s memoir is deeply moving and well-written. It even incites bittersweet memories of  childhood; I was impressed by his scrupulous use of vivid descriptions. Also, since it is a short memoir, he made sure that he was able to write it well-balanced, bearing his award-winning journalistic skills. No wonder the bashers are  irrationally taking it for granted. However, I’m almost familiar with how he circulated the story by blending the past and the present time.

My family and I have never had any nanny, helper, or maid since only rich and well-to-do family can afford to pay their service. However, I grew out of the stereotype that the last resort a woman who is desperate for  working  herself through university or an old woman who lives with a poor family and is expected to be the “bread winner of her family”  is to be employed as “ katulong ”  “ kasambahay” or “ yaya” . So, I never thought of that having this kind of job was a form of slavery. I was just  taught that this symbolizes your economic status in society. In short, you’re poor.  After reading Pulitzer-prize winner, Alex Tizon’s memoir on his family’s big secret, a simplistic and laughable realization came to me that we must,  indeed,  take their case seriously. The word slavery itself has a wider scope we must muse over in the context of  social sciences.

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

 

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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

assistantTIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner ,The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they (family) will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him. In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.

Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil.

The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not. Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be – the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact.

I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised.

To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

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

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.)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway : A Book Review

oldmanI may not know diddly about the criteria the panelists based on choosing this for Pulitzer Prize in 1953, for me , an ordinary reader like me can’t get at it. My mind was boggled at its middle part. I was even close to giving up, but still I did hang in there because I knew that its denouement would get it across me. At the end, I understood the concept . I bet its writing style or enigmatic story- how Ernest Hemmingway created such plots and settings – may have struck the panelists’ fancies.

The story is simply about an old man and the sea , who is at sea for 84 days. The old man has difficulties catching some fish , which is considered as “salao” or unlucky form for fishermen. At eighty fifty days, he lucks out a big fish which he believes can cost a lot and feed many people. However, he is unable to pull in , so he keeps on holding the line for two days. Then, he will be worn-out, but managed to load it on his skiff( which is physically impossible ) . To top it all off, he has to kill a line of sharks attracted to its dripping blood. It is a blood-curdling and breath-taking battle between Santiago and marlin.

After reading some secondary resources, it dawned on me that there is something in the story. It reminded me of an allegory from the bible. It could be. If you are in the same boat and feel like beating your head against a wall, I suggest you read it literary analysis on http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/oldman/

In the end, I appreciated the book. It is crystal-clear why the book is deserving of the Pulitzer Prize as well as of Nobel Prize. But since I tend to be subjective, I won’t be brainbrushed. ( laughs) Its fishy taste still remains in my tongue.But I won’t mind reading it again as well as his other works. I want to dig into Hemmingway more. ^^

Rating: 2/ 5 stars