Tuesday, March 29, 2005

[Book Review] Culture and History by Nick Joaquin

One of the books that I actually bought out of my own volition rather than required reading, Culture and History is a collection of essays by the late Nick Joaquin, perhaps one of the greatest Filipino writers of the 20th century. While Joaquin was a master of the short story and novel, Culture and History shows that he was talented when it came to nonfiction as well.

More than just a history book, Culture and History gives us a different perspective on just as the title implies: culture and history. Although it’s been written down more than a decade ago, Joaquin tackles several modern issues, perhaps a tribute to his foresight and flexibility. In this book we see talk of nationalism, of what makes us a Filipino, and certain nationalistic movements which aren’t really nationalistic.

What’s courageous about Joaquin in this publication is that he plays devil’s advocate and challenges a lot of Filipino complaints when it comes to history. Because of that, there’s perhaps a pro-Spanish slant, but Joaquin justifies all of it with his explanations and discussions. Perhaps what’s even braver is that Joaquin is not afraid to point out several weaknesses of our culture, hindrances which we have overlooked all for the sake of “national pride”. There’s a lot of ideas that is discussed in the book, and the author paints us a more holistic picture of history.

Speaking of history, this book is not just an essay citing various texts. Culture and History has a history of sorts, although it’s not prevalent one we Filipinos learned during our high school and grade school years. There are accounts of the Santo NiƱo, accounts of a strong female religious movement during the Spanish era, and accounts of events in Asia and in the West in general. While perhaps not as “historical” as your text books, Culture and History also has some relevant historical markers in addition to showcasing Joaquin’s views on Filipino history.

The book is far from boring, but it’s not as entertaining as say, the history books of Ambeth Ocampo. Culture and History is a book for those who are more interested in understanding Filipino history (and history in general) rather than just history for the sake of knowledge. And if you think you know everything there is about Filipino culture just because you’re a Filipino, you might want to read this book. Lastly, it’s not for the faint of heart because the book will challenge several prevailing concepts which seem right, especially to our “nationalistic” Filipino hearts. But upon closer inspection, are we really being patriotic or merely deluding ourselves with illusion?

1 comment:

Barbara Suzuki said...

I have just finished this collection and I think your review is on the mark. Within the book is not only fine writing, but also examples of courgeous original thought, especially about colonialism.
I am a long-term British resident of the Philippines. IMO Nick Joaquin is not just a national treasure, but adds to world culture and our understanding of ourselves, all of us.