Sunday, August 20, 2006

salamanca review

Spinning Magic: A Review of Dean Francis Alfar’s Salamanca
by Igor dela Pena
(from In-Print, Aug/Sept 2006)

Sleight-of-hand: the magician’s trick has always been to make something impossible a possibility before our eyes. We are enthralled by a rabbit being pulled out of a top hat; a rose plucked from thin air; a woman cut in half and joined again. For a moment, the laws of logic are violated, no explanations given, and we applaud the magician’s act for its sheer implausibility.

From the start, Dean Francis Alfar’s Palanca-winning novel Salamanca takes a similar approach. Gaudencio Rivera’s decision to beget a child is punctuated by an earthquake, as though to literally the announce the earth-shaking nature of his statement. And amazingly, the author-as-magician pulls it off (along with other chapters of the novel) with élan.

Reminiscent in style of the magic realist fiction from South America, Salamanca chronicles the bizarre romance between Gaudencio Rivera, a prodigious writer, and Jacinta Cordova, whose luminous, unearthly beauty somehow transformed the walls of her house into glass. Intertwined in their long relationship that spans oceans and generations are subplots and vignettes about the interesting characters surrounding them.

There is the Baptist missionary Mrs. Helen Brown, tirelessly teaching English and Arithmetic to an empty class. There is Cesar Abalos, whom Gaudencio eloped with to Manila after marrying Jacinta in Palawan. Sailing from Vietnam through a small boat is Bau Lonh Hyuh, who communicated through gestures and drawings in the sand. And there are many others, a colorful ensemble each with their own unique quirks, who have figured into Gaudencio and Jacinta’s richly textured lives.

The odd assortment of characters gives a double-edged effect to this whimsical novel. They certainly make the book very compelling, hooking readers to the rest of the pages for them to witness what the author’s next trick will be. Yet they often become quick sketches, seldom going beyond the surface of what is happening.

In short, putting up a magnificent show is Alfar’s forte, and this he does with great bravado. Earthquake, typhoon, fire, flood – name a disaster and it happens in Salamanca, all of these tumultuous events detailed in loving splendor. Never has a fire, for instance, been depicted so dazzlingly as this:”…a chaotic vision of black smoke, broken glass, and thousands of fragments of butterfly wings, their brilliant colors and patterns quickly reduced to ashes…” Such events propel the novel, with its penchant for hyperbole and kilometric, Joaquinesque language. It is a delight to read (nay, recite) melodious sentences such as: “thus he [Bau Long Huynh] was able to seek the advice of fish and wandering turtles and helpful dolphins, finding in the cacophony of splashing gurgles, bubbling staccatos, high-pitched whines, half-drowned falsettos, gill-flapping exclamations, and rhythmic piscine, reptilian, and mammalian voices the necessary ways and means to cross the vast South China Sea.”

Expect to be completely beguiled by the dreamlike world of Salamanca. It is not unlike watchng Encantadia or some other telefantasya. Pardon the comparison but even it’s lowbrow, the show deserves kudos for its sheer inventiveness. Modern myth-making, when effectively done, will always be welcomed and encouraged. By fusing the 20th century milieu with Filipino tales and epics, the author achieves an eclectic effect that is pleasantly intoxicating.

Towards the last few pages, the story accelerates in pace and surprisingly, ends with an understated tone through Jacinta’s final letter (read the book to know what the poignant letter says). After regaling the readers with a whirlwind plot, the author cleverly concludes the novel with a very quiet, almost un-dramatic moment. Touché!

Spectacle after splendid spectacle, Salamanca enthralls the reader with its hypnotic narrative where ultimately, love endures all catastrophes. Rare is the writer who can juggle a series of vivid characters and riveting events, holding out attention from beginning to end. Dean Francis Alfar spins magic from his supernatural imagination and we are left breathless with no choice but to applaud.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home