A Book of Laughter, Pain and Remembering

By Barcelon, Josephine | Hecate, May 31, 1989 | Go to article overview

A Book of Laughter, Pain and Remembering


Barcelon, Josephine, Hecate


Review of Ninotchka Rosca, State of War (New York: Norton, 1988).

Against the pessimism which results from the harsh realities of his experience, Milan Kundera contrasts a parallel world in which he has never lost faith, that which he calls "the depreciated legacy of Cervantes":(1) the world of the novel. Kundera believes that the novel "protects" humanity from the "forgetting of being" by keeping" `the world of life' under a permanent light."(2) This gives the novel the potential to add an enriching and nurturing dimension to existence, most particularly when it is devalued by oppressive historical and political forces. Such potential is amply fulfilled by a novel written in exile about a country whose history has been one of brutality and torment: the Philippines. The novel is State of War by Ninotchka Rosca.

When Rosca was asked why she, a journalist by profession, should turn to fiction in order to tell the story of her country and its people, she replied: "When people learned I was doing what they called `the big book', I was constantly being asked if I was writing about Marcos. This was in 1977. No, I'd say, Marcos is a boring subject. You already know what's going to happen to him. He's either going to die or he's going to be overthrown -- he's just another dictator. The problem was how to tell a story that was not anybody's story yet was everybody's story."(3)

The story turned out, naturally, to be somebody's story, as well as everyone's -- an encapsulation of the Filipino past and future. Rosca found herself turning away from documenting the manipulations of the political `heavyweights', based on actual figures in the government who were, at any rate, busily shaping their own version of history. Instead, she focused on three young people: Adrian Banyaga, Anna Villaverde and Eliza Hansen. As the novel begins, these three are on board a ship, on their way to an island in the south for the celebration of a festival.

These characters allow Rosca to explore "the world of life" in its multitude of forms. They live through the vagaries of experience within the bounds of a state which denies them the most basic of freedoms and subjects them to various forms of surveillance. Adrian, the heir to a great fortune, discovers the limitations of privilege and the confusions in his own nature when he is captured and toyed with by the military strongman, Colonel Urbano Amor. Unsure of Amor's motives and unaware of his powerful grandfather's secret strategies against the regime, Adrian remains a true innocent, a man who would have fared far better in a less treacherous time. On the other hand, Anna, who is Adrian's lover, has seen and experienced the most horrific aspects of tyranny. As the wife of a political activist, Anna found herself caught in a whirlwind of civilian rebellion and state repression. Her husband abandons her in order to save his own skin, and Anna is imprisoned and tortured in retaliation. She is only saved from almost certain death by the manipulations of her best friend, Eliza, a high-class courtesan whose favours are sought by two powerful Colonels.

Rosca's graphic writing powerfully recreates the pain, the perils and the desires of her characters. In the love between Anna and Adrian, in the friendship and loyalty between Anna and Eliza, she creates a strong nexus of human relationships which holds firm against the annihilating machinery of the totalitarian state. Her fiction reaches for the human reality behind the creative lies of the ruling men, beyond the perversity of a man like Amor, who calls his torture chamber "the romancing room", who does not rape his victims but prefers to disinter their private lives and "fuck the soul".

The poignancy of the situations of Adrian, Anna and Eliza also stands in stark contrast to the pedantries of the state's bureaucracy, which hides its intentions behind the subtlest of orchestrations. In a passage of black humour, Rosca recounts a speech made by a government functionary who is so versed in the intricacies of jargon that he requires a translator:

"Why be content with providing only the alternative of vertical sepulchrization? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

A Book of Laughter, Pain and Remembering
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.