Jan 04 2007
Dean Francis Alfar’s choice of the title for his novel about the love between Gaudencio Rivera and Jacinta Cordova is what would fit best, for salamanca or magic fills every aspect and detail of the story. At media res and set in Los Angeles, the story started when the finality of Gaudencio’s decision to return to the Philippines was emphasized with a minor earthquake. As the story progresses, the reasons for his homecoming become clear; he wants to return and reunite with his wife of eleven days, whom he abruptly left many years ago in a small town in the Philippines, during the remainder of one of the most ferocious storms that ever hit the country, to beget a child. Flashback to more than 18 years in Palawan, self-assured, young and armed with a hopeful feeling, Gaudencio arrives in this remote town of Tagbaoran ready to try his luck, away from the bittersweet love affair he escaped from in the busy and metropolitan Manila. Upon his arrival, the very first things he learned from the locals was that the most beautiful woman ever created, named Jacinta Cordova, lived by the river and that desiring to be loved by that woman was plain foolish. Even the house where Jacinta lived transmuted into the finest glass, when her beauty came in full force.He tried to look for a job as a teacher but he soon he realized that the small town does not need a teacher for the town already has one in the person of Mrs. Brown, an American missionary, aside from the fact that there were no children in the town to teach for. In a matter of days, he realized that the reason why the townspeople of Tagbaoran do not have students is due to the fact that the townspeople have not produced a child after Jacinta turned twelve. And it was because they were intimidated by the unearthly beauty she exuded. Gaudencio paid not much attention to this and treated it as an exaggeration of the people’s folklore and continued to look for a job. He needed the money for him to have a house to live in and food to sustain him. Desperate to earn his dough as his savings were depleted, he resorted to manual form of labor and grabbed the work of cutting talahib. Jumping from one form of labor to another, he met and got close with Carlos Abalos, who taught him a lot of things: about his work, among others. While taking a break from work in a copra factory of Don Salazar and puffing cigarettes while strolling the vicinity and into a stream, something shining caught his attention. He soon found out that he had just discovered what the whole townspeople kept talking about— the famous glass house where the most beautiful woman lived. Gaudencio, at this time, was already convinced that what the people had said were all true. When Gaudencio and Jacinta finally met, their first encounter was scorching, literally, magically, and metaphorically. For Jacinta, Gaudencio’s presence was electrifying that even her vegetables felt the bolt of electricity she emanated. As for Gaudencio, Jacinta’s gleaming beauty was enough to send him to a painful erection and to make him excessively verbose, (yes, verbose). Verbs, articles, nouns, words, phrases, sentences started to radiate out of his system and he wasn’t able to contain the words that well inside him that he had to find a whole lot of paper to serve as his outlet. Gaudencio was able to write sheets after sheets of love stories that just seem to spontaneously pour out of his system. Their encounter was just too hot to handle. Since then, Gaudencio devoted himself to pasting every nook and corner of the glass house with his letters of love and affection, inspired by the onslaught of words that rushed to his being, to the lovely Jacinta, everyday before the sun would rise in the morning. Jacinta, on the other hand, patiently waits for Gaudencio to finish his daily ritual before she gets up and do his arduous routine of putting the glass house back to its unblemished state by removing page after page of love stories posted by her ardent suitor, Gaudencio. By then, she knew the name of her suitor and longed to meet him again. This was their ritual, everyday for three months. Until, the storm came.It was vicious and ruthless. Not only did it sweep up dislodged branches, spinning coconuts, aluminum roofs, but also Gaudencio and Jacinta, together with Cesar, Mrs. Brown, and a crippled dog named Shiro. Just as the two main characters were spinning together in the middle of flying carts and debris, Gaudencio fell. When the violent wind subsided, Jacinta was devastated. Her old aunt Apolinaria Vergara, their glass house, and Gaudencio were nowhere to be found. When Gaudencio appeared three days after his fall, he asked Jacinta’s hand for marriage. Jacinta agreed, much to the Tagbaoran townspeople’s delight. The townspeople were pleased with what was happening: the town’s most beautiful woman marrying the man from Manila who survived a great fall. However, Jacinta and Gaudencio’s marriage was short-lived.Their union was the most talked-about in Tagbaoran, only to fall short and replaced 11 days later with the talk of Gaudencio abandoning her. Yes, Gaudencio Rivera left the most beautiful woman in Tagbaoran. Together with Cesar, he went back to Manila. It was the biggest scandal that ever hit the town, perhaps more cruel than the storm. Jacinta’s beauty started to fade, and she was kept and adopted by the Abalos clan. The years quickly passed. A lot has changed for both Jacinta and Gaudencio. Jacinta found herself at ease in her new home, the Abalos household. She established a new life from the day Gaudencio abandoned him. She found a friend in the person of Filomena Abalos and an admirer in the person of Vietnamese migrant Bau Long Huynh. As for Gaudencio, he was able to write novels, plays, short stories, gained awards, and established himself in the Philippine literary world. He won first prizes in numerous award-giving bodies and joined the ranks of a lot of celebrated writers. As he was enjoying his success, he had a major fight with Cesar, which prompted Cesar to go back to Tagbaoran. Few years later, Gaudencio accepted the invitation to be a writer-in-residence in Iowa and joined the academe. As for Carlos Abalos, his sudden homecoming to Tagbaoran was greeted warmly by his family and with passiveness by Jacinta. Jacinta listened to everything Carlos has to say, and moved on. She lived a new life, with her new family. She forgot everything about Gaudencio. Or so, it seemed.18 years after Gaudencio left Jacinta, he is back in Tagbaoran and was welcomed with fury and anger. He had come to ask Jacinta to beget their child in exchange for her freedom from their marriage. Much to the surprise of everyone, Jacinta accepted Gaudencio’s proposal and the couple left for Manila to start their family. It was only some time before Jacinta gave birth to her twins, Gaudencio Antonio Rivera and Gaudencio Lorenzo Rivera. Lorenzo, died a few hours after being born, his existence unknown to Jacinta. A few years later, Jacinta gave birth to their youngest son, Emmanuel Crisanto, who would die of an accident at such a young age. Through all these years, Jacinta dedicated her life to her family, to Gaudencio and their sons, as she continued to communicate with Filomena Abalos through letters. As Antonio grew up, married, and had his own family, Jacinta stayed. The initial plan of the couple to beget a child and be on their separate ways never materialized for Jacinta lived with Gaudencio until the rest of her life. Towards the end of the novel, you will be amazed with how the author, Dean Francis Alfar, was able to weave the story together until Jacinta’s last breath. The conclusion of this novel is one of the few good endings—perhaps one of the best endings – I’ve ever read. Alfar was able to condense the magic that fills the novel on the way to a climactic ending. I agree with Cirilo f. Bautista when he wrote that Salamanca “was made memorable for its emotional restraint, sustained interest, exceptional characters, and well-conceived plot.” There is emotional restraint because the character’s feelings were not apparent for the readers. It makes you wonder. The fact that it is hidden and written in subtlety gives the right amount of magic for the reader. A reader could sustain the interest in reading and finishing the entire novel because the novel is so well-written that you can’t see the thread of binds the story together but you still know it’s there. The transition of one plot to another is in such a way that there’s a smooth flow of events. We could also owe it to the fact that Alfar play of words is written in such a way that he could be verbose without being complicated, wordy yet understandable. Salamanca is effective, visually. Why? It is because Salamanca achieved the writer’s goal of having the readers read the novel while having the images and visuals playing in their head, a movie played in slow motion in the reader’s imagination. Its aesthetics was so powerful. I think, we owe this to how Dean Alfar concocts words into writing. Even other short stories from Alfar show these characteristic, the characteristic of being visually effective.Salamanca is one of which Alfar call as magic realism. In this novel, we talk about magic, about Salamanca, but, we don’t mean paranormal events, magic tricks, and invisibility. The magic of Salamanca is subtle. It is embedded into our everyday lives. It is the magic of reality, the magic of being human. It’s also not the kind of magic realism we see in the boob tube and the big screen, it is so different from the other Philippine stories of magic realism but we see that Salamanca is distinctly Pinoy. The novel may be written in English, but we cannot deny that the story is so Filipino. The story is contemporary yet traditional. The story is new but we see traces of old school love.The novel’s characters are also brilliant.I find Gaudencio Rivera’s character as too ambitious and self-centered. He would do anything in his power just to get what he wants: sacrifice his best friend and lover Cesar for the new circle of friends he found, take advantage of Inez Villacorta to satisfy his manly needs, and even abandon his wife Jacinta. Yet, by the end of the novel, you still get to see Gaudencio, pride and all, but somehow changed.Jacinta Cordova is perhaps the most beautiful martyr in Philippine literature. She was abandoned for 18 years without warning and she accepted Gaudencio’s proposal of having a child in a matter of hours, maybe even minutes. But, Jacinta Cordova is modern-day martyr. The eternal martyr, “dakilang martir,” of Philippine literature has evolved. Dean Alfar was able to reconstruct the image of martyrdom while retaining its essence.Of course, the other characters of the novel were not taken for granted by the author. How they were introduced and sustained in the story was given due attention, the effect is a good connection between the different characters and this is what makes Salamanca more successful and excellent as a novel.The story is fresh because it is written in such a way that the sub-plots in the story supplement each other and the main plot. No part of the story is far-fetched. Everything is there for a reason. Salamanca was written only in 30 days and with how this novel turned out, Dean Alfar’s accomplishment is remarkable. I guess, my favorite line in the novel would be what Irene Ledesma told Antonio Rivera when he was still courting her. The line goes, “Love is a choice, not a matter of destiny. It is a choice renewed each day.” Maybe this was the reason why the novel is fresh, Salamanca was not afraid to break cliché. And I love it for that. All the brouhaha of love as something people couldn’t stop and choose is so last century.
As a whole, Salamanca is a classic love story— a love story between parent and child, owner and pet, love between families, love between friends, love between husband and wife. What makes it distinctive and stand out from the rest is that in Salamanca, Dean Francis Alfar assures us that when there is love, there’s magic, salamanca.