Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Compendium




Rarely do I stay over at my Favorite Aunt's place these days, and when I do, they would likely find me in the driveway, writing snippets for the raketship. 

But there was a time, not so long ago, that I did stay for the night and when sleep seemed hard to find, I would read books - tomes containing raw information - until daybreak - or until my eyelids demand a shut-eye. If I wasn't reading the almanac about the events of World War 2, I would on-and-on turn the pages of Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People for illumination. This 10-volume body of knowledge covers everything about the Philippines. From its geography and wildlife to its precolonial past and beyond. Published by the Reader's Digest, having possession of these books is a must for a true disciple of history.

What I like about these books is the way facts are presented. Straight to the point and well-researched, but with a narrative carefully arranged by some of the best storytellers of our time. The encyclopedia portrays heroes with flaws (Manuel L. Quezon having dictatorial leanings) or a society that deviates from the collective memory (women in pre-colonial times are expected not just to manage the family affairs, but also run the business if necessary). It also tells seldom-mentioned events in our history (The brief British occupation of Manila, which is largely uneventful save for the English masters paying on time and in full for services rendered to them). The books also have short essays written by the likes of Ambeth Ocampo and Bienvenido Lumbrera. Scholars, who have to tell something about our history from their own studies. Sometimes, these essays tell of a personal experience, so harrowing that it encapsulates an entire period in Philippine history. Take for example the autobiography of Lourdes Montinola, the sole survivor of her family during the Liberation of Manila in 1945.

"Father ordered an early supper, but the Japanese soldiers came too soon. Only a gunshot, a dog's howling, and the trampling of boots announced their arrival. We were all in the vestibule, including Mother, who had witnessed the shooting from her balcony, and run downstairs to warn us. Father gathered us around him - an uncle, an aunt, their son Edgar, my mother, my sister, my brothers; five other members of the household. Father had time to say only 'be brave' before ten Japanese soldiers came barging in, bayonets gleaming, sneers on their faces. Mother protested weakly, 'We're only civilians.'"

The Americans, she wrote, had liberated the north side of Manila on February 3 of that year. Georgia Peach, the tank that crashed into their iron gate and ran over it came only on February 14. She was the only one to welcome the victors. 

What an anecdote to close an entire volume about the Japanese Occupation.

Stories like these kept me glued to the collection, that there were times I was tempted to borrow a few books from my Favorite Aunt so I can continue dwelling on the pages in the comforts of my own room. For some reasons, the idea failed to push through, and no matter how I tried looking for a set during the yearly Manila International Book Fair, I always went home empty handed. That was until this June. When a classmate from the university announced on Facebook that he was able to acquire a set for 2,000 pesos. He was gracious enough to provide the details: That Fully Booked, the bookstore, offered the set at a discounted rate. Knowing that I have always wanted to have my own, an approval from my mother (emphasizing that one day, the nephews will benefit from these books) ended with me getting a set at one of the last branches that still accept reservations. 





The books were specifically written to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the First Philippine Republic. In the 15 years after the first copies of Kasaysayan were published, much has changed and events in the years after Martial Law need to be written and put into new chapters that will make up our nation's story.

Meanwhile, the wait didn't take long. Two weeks after the payment, and the books that I reserved were already available at the bookstore for pickup. I may have never been able to read a volume from cover to cover in the nights I stayed at my Favorite Aunt's place. But now that I have my own, I will be able to digest its contents and learn more about my people's story at a leisurely pace.