F. Sionil Jose is perhaps the Phillipines most celebrated author. His reputation largely hinges on The Rosales saga which are five books about the fortunes of different members of a somewhat affluent family with the backdrop of Post WWII Philippines-the injustice, rebellions, and financial inequality.
I’ve just finished reading MY BROTHER, MY EXECUTIONER which is the second book I’ve read in the saga, THE PRETENDERS being the first. The main character Luis is the bastard son of a wealthy landowner and former maid. He starts life with his mother in village poverty and then is brought to a life in wealth with his father. The tug of war between the two lifestyles is at the heart of this book. The wealthy life of the landowner vs. the grinding poverty and the rebellion against the unfair state of things as embodied by Luis’ half brother the revolutionary Victor.
Jose maintains a focus on this theme but does flirt with other themes including the role of the Catholic Church in Pilipino society and female sexuality in that society as well. His eventual sacking from his job as a magazine editor due to his reporting of the destruction of his mother’s village by government troops is another key point.
F. Sionil Jose’s writing style reminds me of a slightly less nihilistic and more relaxed Zola. The fate of Luis at the end is partly his own fault.
THE PRETENDERS was a “bigger” novel but I prefer BROTHER. Luis is a perfectly rounded character and his turmoil and confusion are expertly explained in full. Jose is brilliant at constructing a scene, describing its inner works and what is going on.