Sunday, October 01, 2006

salamanca review

(From Current Magazine, Sept/Oct 2006)

Love in the time of solitude
By Miguel Escaño

In his first novel, Dean Francis Alfar makes an impressive debut as one of the leading Philippine writers of magic realism. Eponymously titled, Salamanca weaves a rapturous tale of love found, lost and rediscovered involving killer typhoons, amorous townsfolk, and an American missionary who curses in several languages.

Love is a mercurial element. It vacillates between levity and passion, attraction and obsession, hope and despair. In Salamanca, Gaudencio Rivera finds love in the unlikeliest of places. To escape his past in Manila, he travels to Tagbaoran, a secluded town in Palawan. Expecting to find peace and quiet, he instead steps onto a bed of glowing embers. He gazes upon the face of Jacinta Cordova, whose beauty has transformed the walls of her cottage into glass, and loses himself. Possessed by the Muse herself, Gaudencio launches into a writing frenzy that consumes all the paper in his room and every bit of space on the walls. Only the arrival of a typhoon brings him out of his delirium. His room buffeted by strong winds, Gaudencio realizes Jacinta’s life is in danger. He rushes outside to save her before the storm uproots her house and carries her away. As fate would have it, the two find each other in the pouring rain. As fate would have it, the wind wrenches Gaudencio from Jacinta and carries him far away.

Like the hurricane that whisks away Dorothy to the magical land of Oz, the typhoon sets Gaudencio on a journey of self-discovery. This journey will not only take him back to Jacinta but also away from her once again. His wanderings take him to Manilaville in Louisiana, U.S.A. and back to Palawan.

In a way, the storm that separated Gaudencio from Jacinta never really dissipates. Wracked by internal tempest, Gaudencio must calm his creative winds before he returns to Jacinta, his goddess of storms.

At its heart, Salamanca is a love story between two persons. But unlike the typical love story, the novel subtly traces the many permutations of love from romantic to authentic. In true magic realist fashion, love not only transforms the persons involved but warps the very landscape around them. When her husband leaves her, Jacinta’s unearthly beauty begins to diminish. The townspeople stop fearing the prospect of begetting monstrous children and begin the task of repopulating the town.

Magical realism is synonymous with Latin American fiction. Nobel prizewinner Gabriel Garcia Marquez became the leading practitioner of magical realism. Literary critics regard the novels A Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera as his seminal works.

Discussions on the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez often overlook the theme of emotion as a powerful drug. Love in particular is the most potent and the most addictive. When taken in large doses, love transforms people in the creatures of passion, addicts and slaves all. Only when they realize their dependency on this drug does real and meaningful change occur.

Similar themes can be found in Dean Francis Alfar’s Salamanca and the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In tone and language, Alfar mirrors the lyrical writing style of Latin American practitioners of magic realism. But more than just style, Alfar captures the essence of magical realism by distilling its richest themes. With Salamanca, he applies its power to a Philippine setting.

Salamanca, the 2005 Grand Prize Winner for the Novel, was released earlier this year to a lack of publicity and fanfare. This is unfortunate as this novel is fresh, innovative, and very addictive.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez established himself as the foremost writer of magic realism with his first novel, A Hundred Years of Solitude. In a similar manner, Dean Francis Alfar establishes himself with his first novel Salamanca as arguably the leading Philippine writer of magic realism.

Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar
Published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press

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