Book: Ang Lihim ng San Esteban

"Ang Lihim ng San Esteban"

Unang beses na magbabakasyon si Jacobo sa San Esteban sa Ilocos, at magkahalong pananabik at kaba ang dala ng biyahe papunta sa probinsya ng mga magulang niya. Siguradong marami siyang matutuklasan tungkol as kasaysayan ng kaniyang pamilya mula kay Lola Carmen! Ngunit hindi niya inaasahang may mas malaking lihim sa mga lumang bahay at multo ng San Esteban. Ang mga ito kaya ang susi sa misteryong pilit na ikinukubli ni Lola Carmen?

Quick translation: It’s Jacobo’s first time to visit San Esteban in Ilocos, and he’s feeling a mix of nervousness and trepidation about the trip; wondering if the town would live up to the stories he’s been told growing up. But what he didn’t expect was that he would discover a big secret about a house in San Esteban. A secret that his own grandmother is working hard to keep.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but whatever it was… It wasn’t what the book turned out to be. Although, to be fair, I think I already judged the book in the first chapter–when the author made a twelve-year old travel to a provincial town he’s never been to on his own. Now, unless this was a recounting of real events, I see no reason why he couldn’t have been taken there by his parents.

It all goes downhill for me from then on. Jacobo isn’t really developed as a character. If I’m to compare him to someone from current literature, he’s a Bella Swan. He exists solely to become an anchor for readers to attach to. His inquisitiveness is his only redeeming trait, and that’s only because we need him to be inquisitive for the story to move forward.

The book introduces many characters with potential to make the main story more… engaging. But the author drops the ball on all of them. The town jokester who turns out to be really friendly with the nuns is wasted as he becomes a sidekick to our bland hero, and the mysterious clairvoyant appears only once–to make us think that something ominous was about to happen–only for that warning to actually ruin the story because suddenly our hero is trapped in a house with nowhere to go.

That is, until he decides to break rules. And by then, it’s already too late. We’re already 80% into the story, and the remaining pages only serve to wrap up a mystery that never became mysterious in the first place.

I wish I could say something more positive about this book. I really do. But I’ve already sat on this book for two weeks now. I can’t think of anything nice to say about the book. Nothing at all.

But the folks over at Good Reads seem to have found something to like about the book. So why don’t you also check out what they have to say? Maybe I missed something.

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Book: Mga Tala sa Dagat

"Mga Tala sa Dagat"

Isang pag-iibigan ang nabuo sa pagitan ng prinsesa at ng isang mangingisda. Isang bata ang kailangan isuko ang paglalaro at pag-aaral, alang-alang sa pagiging pinakamahusay na mangingisda ng bayan. Nauugnay ang lahat ng ito sa isang pangako, isang pangako tungkol sa higanteng-dagat na may dala-dalang mga tala.

Translated, the synopsis reads as follows: “Love blooms between a princess and a fisherman. A child sacrifices his childhood to become the best fisherman in town. And all three of them are beholden to a promise: their promise to the giant of the sea, the one who holds the stars.

Annette Acacio Flores’s story is a haunting love story between a child and his parents, as much as it is about the sea-giant who doesn’t really become a part of the story until much later. I haven’t read the original text, but Nanoy Rafael’s translation of Mga Tala sa Dagat is a beautiful telling that really touches the heart.

To those who are thinking of picking this book up, a warning: the narrative is not linear. To tell the story effectively, Flores (and Rafael, in his translation) weaves her love story through time–with mostly the same characters–to effectively strengthen the characeterizations, and to make an already likeable character, a hero amongst his contemporaries, into an even more tragic figure.

Also, Mga Tala sa Dagat is not a children’s book, but it’s something you can read with children. The story deals with themes of responsibility, personal and social, and the importance of happiness in life. Lessons that, goodness knows, children need nowadays.

And for those who doesn’t want to pick the book up– I won’t question your taste, but I implore you to just give the book a try.

Because in Mga Tala sa Dagat, I found the book I’ll be nominating for the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards next year.

Which reminds me– Voting for this year’s Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards is still open. Do check out the nominees at the Filipino Readers’ Choice website and vote!