Category Archives: book reviews

After peaking into what seems to be a profound mystery, it ends in ‘nothing’

by Cygne Sauvage

 

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Discussions of wars always evoke horror.   Novels dealing with this genre tell of heroic tales, more often romanticized, distorted and unequivocal,  of either who’s perceived as the aggressor or oppressed, depending from what points of view the stories emanate from, or the author’s ideological position.

The Sympathizer, a successful first attempt of the author Viet Than Nguyen in the sense that it won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, differs from what is considered a typical narrative of war exploits of the protagonist.  In fact,  Nguyen does not brand his lead character, who remains the unknown storyteller bearing only the title of the Captain relating his predilection to another unnamed superior he alludes to as the Commandant,  as a paragon of a good soldier.  The narrator’s exposition of events displays more, not subtly, his compunction, weaknesses and guilt, as if wanting to clarify his deeds, cleanse his soul of culpability. His actions which he succinctly owns up to all, he explains, may be irrational in  periods sans armed conflict,   but very pragmatic and  acceptable in otherwise situations.

The tragedy in this entire tale, set in the then South Vietnam and partly in the neighboring countries of the Philippines and Thailand,  is not the series of macabre mutilation of live bodies nor of the number of lives cold-bloodedly halted by trigger happy lunatics, but the absurdity of war dictated by supreme hunger for power. The lowly fighters are in the armed struggle not out of love for one’s country but because they have no choice. Either that or escape to what could be a more hellish predicament.  Everybody just wants to survive, his/her reason for involvement does not go beyond,  toward a much greater or nobler reason.

The Captain‘s  circumstances that lead to his involvement in the war demonstrates a case in point. He is driven by his personal attachment to people engaged in the larger arena of combat. He risks his life to save his friend.  Such passionate attitude and attachment originates from  acquiring that sense of belongingness for the first time when these pals saved him from school bullies. Outside of this incident, the Captain has always considered himself as an outcast. As a love child of a French priest with a young Vietnamese lass, he is neither deemed as a denizen of the country where he was born, nor looked up to by his father’s compatriots as somebody among them.

But then, like himself, everyone is an outsider, that is, to the ongoing war as metaphorically exhibited in  the movie, which has the semblance to “Apocalypse Now,” where he was sent on a mission.  The locals are afforded mere cameo roles. His purpose to manipulate the director for more substantial characterization and participation for the Vietnamese is not accomplished, though earned him a huge compensation.

The novel’s erudite prose is a very delightful read, though at times, unnecessarily high falutin, on the verge of being grandiose. The first three chapters engender excitement and curiosity for what is thought as ostensibly mysterious plot.  The reader’s mood is dampened by the succeeding sections, as the narrator’s character turns jaded, the subsequent events shallow.

Despite this, reading through this novel is not a waste of time.

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Colossal Deception: A Case Study of Corruption, Cronyism and Regulatory Capture in the Philippines

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December 13, 2016 · 3:05 am

Despite the story’s happy resolution I put the book down with a heavy heart

by Cygne Sauvage

 

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I read Donna Tartt’s The Gold Finch several months before it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was well-written, very absorbing.  Within three consecutive days,  I have to rush to the powder room every lunch break from work to continue where I left off when I was consuming the book at the back of the cab on my way to the office. Going home I have to make use of my emergency pen light to resume reading inside the dim lit service vehicle, a hobby I have learned to master in the metropolis I inhabit, notorious for its monstrous traffic. Reading this modern Dickensian tale did overcome my impatience and anxiety about being held for long hours in the main thoroughfare that looks like a gigantic parking lot every day. Upon reaching home,  Theo Decker, the main protagonist in the novel,  remains my dinner companion, up to the comfort of my bed and pillowcases which most of the time would send me off to dreamland in five minutes. With Tartt’s work of fiction sleep never came until I reached the concluding chapter.

Had time been on my favor I would have gladly reread this opus. The storyline can only be the product of an imaginative genius, one who has the full command, depth and empathy of every emotion associated with the myriad facets of human existence. For these exactly are what the 14-year old boy named Theo went through from the time he lost his mother in a tragic bombing. Even the choice of a museum where the appalling event occurred must have been well-thought off by the author to stress the ironic juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy.  Tartt’s style of narration is so consuming. She relates the minutest detail of body language, the innermost covert personal feelings  such that the reader feels inclusion in the company of the characters.  Her prolific pen fabricates  an interplay of funny and grievous circumstances, drawing  empathy for Theo and Boris’ quandary, their self-destructive lifestyles imposed upon them by the pitiful circumstances in their lives.

The novel reeks of social relevance bringing to the fore the unintentional harm the child care program in the United States casts on the defenseless members of the society, the too mechanical and rigid stance of administrators that exactly drove Theo to escape and accidentally find solace in the company of an equally neglected youngster Boris. Theo attempted to drown his misery from missing his mother, while at the same time salvaging whatever memory is left of her in his heart, particularly the painting he saved during the bombing.

The Gold Finch’s storyline was never lost in the subplots as the author ingenuously interweaves  their connectedness. As the narrative progresses,  the change in Theo’s character becomes palpable, his demeanor, his struggle for survival , the inner conflict of whether he has to keep a national treasure or surrender it, and lastly, the not-so-unrequited love he has harbored over the years for Pippa, as well as his undying hope of its being reciprocated.

 

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS?

by Cygne Sauvage

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Kevin Kwan’s books which sold million copies, if we are to believe the information from the books’ publisher, are of simple storylines belonging to the genre of traditional  Korean romantic-comedy telenovelas. Both the first book Crazy Rich Asians and its sequel China Rich Girlfriend exude post-reading feel-good  sensation that their initial value  is that as escapist tools to oppressed rank and file employees, dreamy millennials and citizens of countries of inefficient governments trying to redirect their angst and fury.

It was out of curiosity that I picked up both copies but did not line up for autograph with the writer who coincidentally was at the bookstore for a scheduled book signing for patrons. My reason is that I haven’t read the books yet that time, hence, not certain whether they are good reads or if they have the potential to turn into classic. I will struggle to have a signature on my copy if it were written by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I know nothing about the author except that based on his written works after going through them, he is well adept with haute couture. This does not make him a good writer, though. There’s no sophistication in the narrative.  No surprising twists, no thought-provoking turn of events. But I might be asking too much. These are  not  metaphorical tales nor epics after all.

There’s a glaring misrepresentation however.  One of the reasons I am attracted to the first volume is the expectation of being toured within the lavish palaces, buffets and paradise-like hideaways of royalties and the scandalously opulent class of Asia.  It was disconcerting that I only encountered personalities who are rich but nor crazy rich belonging  to the compatriot circles of the author’s, and therefore, do not represent the zillionaires of the continent. I may lead a simple, frugal living but the periscope of my information is far-reaching even on topics which may not be of special interest to me, something about wealth, for example. Kwan’s contextual description of his affluent characters don’t qualify them for his allusion. Further, within the milieu of Asia’s aristocratic and moneyed people, they are in the lower rung of the socio-economic ladder.

On the other hand, another value that can be attributed to these fictional opuses is their being effective (though I wonder if reliable) sources of a reader’s education on high end fashion as well as the ways of the opulent class in the city-state of Singapore, Shanghai and Hongkong, especially for someone whose only preoccupation and concern is to have something spic and span to wear, without delineating whether it is for a corporate meeting or for an appointment with a dentist.

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De Luxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster

by Marc Romyjos

 

Image resultIn the same way that oil and coffee could inspire bloody cataclysmic wars we’d rather forget in the benign moods of car rides and Starbucks whilings, luxury goods are a remarkable historical palliative for the often latent conflicts that spurn faith in a rhythmic and integrated global economy. And yes, that was perhaps the hoped for kind of analogous analysis that would excuse the silly desire for a fashion briefer. In any event, the book cost too much.

The title feels preemptive, in fact, especially as the author walks off with a weak indictment — she banked on the industry’s hardliners to keep luxury alive even with its buyers’ clueless notion of it. And as yet, Thomas documents, we have the pomp-priming emporia of China, Russia, Beverly Hills and Japan to keep churning the extra-special merchandise in all their mass-retail splendour. The opposite of the title, then, is true: luxury is crossing borders in a blinding flash, and 8.3 million millionaires worldwide, apart from the impossibly rich neighbourhood of the billionaires having the pawing rights to it, makes for a very well-lit industry.

One suspects Thomas’ main thesis as drawn from the haute poutyness cultivated by the world’s snobbiest at the loss of exclusivity. Conglomerates handling the most expensive international brands, such as Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (LVMH), Pinault Printemps Redoute (PPR), Prada and Hermes are collectively bewailing the proliferation of counterfeits. The shoddy recreation of brand logos stuck on the poster children of un-class in the back alleys of Los Angeles and the blighted industrial quarters of Xi’an and India is being policed by covert agents. Even Hollywood, if not for its impressionable minions, had not been exempted from the sniff.

But all these are supposed to stir the consumer conscience in some way. There is, after all, the marketable value of nitpicky craftsmanship that is supposed to justify costs. That may have been the case for luxury’s validity in high-nosed Europe. But presently the customary definition of luxury supports the ongoing contradictions that are duping the world’s aspirational classes. The drive for profits and expansion vis-à-vis the mystification of the merchandise as royal rarities picks its way into the splashy world of promotions. In turn, the hungry industry is feeding off the power of PR to sell “class” for money. And when Rachel Zoe’s fashion pets brandish a Birkin or a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos, all nouveau riche hell breaks loose. To go mass Bernard Arnault et al exploits LV’s historical roots, where in fact, the present LV is fully detached from its founder’s philosophy, save for the name.

At its best the book exposes a fetishist world and documents rising inequalities in the outsourced production of luxury merchandise. Same old cheap-labour, weak-currency propellers. But I suppose most of us have been pitted to dreams of pretty things at some point, because in any case, Bernard Arnault and the PR industry are still manning fashion’s gates. And Miranda Priestly’s “cerulean” speech in the movie The Devil Wears Prada reaffirms the power base for even the most distended, semi-conscious fashion choices and mistakes we make.

That is why I think it is important to observe the luxury goods industry. After being made accessible to middle-income spenders eager to “buy into the dream” through petty merchandise such as handbags and sunglasses, the industry has become susceptible to economic downturns and new cultural maps. Despite unrestrained spending on promotions from within, it is actually an industry limited by the spending capacities of its broader client base — the middle class, the petit bourgeois if you will. In a forecast published December last year, The Economist had more cause to call the industry lacklustre (the actual term used was “less exuberant”) in light of the recent and anticipated pinches on sales courtesy of the subprime mortgage crisis and hints at a US economy recession. But more significantly, the industry will have to come up with new morsels that the petit bourgeois could chew. If it can’t keep up with that, it’ll have to make do with profits from the Parasite Singles and Mrs. Watanabes of Japan, the dapper, plainclothes cool of Russia’s Kremlin, and China’s populous rich. It’s hard to say ouch to that.

 

 

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The Accidental Billionaires : The Founding of Facebook : A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal

by Marc Romyjos

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The cover of The Accidental Billionaires might be offputting if you are a certain Mark Zuckerberg, a near-possessed genius of a computer programmer who frittered away most of his Harvard hours coding for the premiere alternative reality of our days. Facebook might be the force to reckon with if you are a regular employee or a focused coed endlessly resisting the social networks. It might be a chore to swallow how the Facebook compulsion might be driven by our own generational prurience, how the very end to which we socialize over the internet might just be to knock off some hormonal and narcissistic parties.

Is this book perhaps an indirect slap into our own shallowness? Not so much if the relevance of Facebook is viewed in an entrepreneurial and scholarly fashion, seeing as it had spawned an unusual demographic of premature billionaires such as Zuckerberg. Harvard, too, might be revelling at this biography, knowing that the upstarts of this technological phenomenon had been nurtured by fraternal bonds, academic competition, furious hobnobbing and idealistic brainstorming within the grounds of Harvard Yard and its dormitories. Even Lawrence Summers, Harvard President at the time, might have reached his smuggest achievement in the founding of Facebook under his tenure.

Zuckerberg is actually not the hero of this tale, pretty much because he had taken no part in Mezrich’s information gathering. This book cements him as the sinister geek with antisocial business acumen, as if he had himself been programmed by his ambition to seize unchallenged control of his creation. The betrayal aspect had been right all along — Mezrich narrates in a riveting, unreferenced manner unusual in biographies the initiation of young men into the unforgiving world of startups. The victims are inevitably a number of unknown names rankled by absence of credit to their contributions in the hugest platform since Napster : a certain young investor named Edouardo Saverin, former best friend to Zuckerberg; a trio of like-minded promising young men such as athletic twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and Divya Narendra, who have been legally crying foul that Facebook had been stolen under their noses by Zuckerberg; and Sean Parker, Mr. Napster himself, the washed up party animal who had been booted out of his brainchild and had been seeking his relaunching through Facebook.

The tale and title are things you would expect from gung-ho warlords, not college students blinded by the infamous Harvard pressure to attain billionaire status upon graduation. The book not only feeds into our involved curiosities about Facebook, but also exposes the wrathful college life of clique-ish discriminations. Still, it is hardly justifiable that the history of Facebook might be sensationalized by broken martini glasses and a racy red brassiere, those cover signifiers that allow us to feel the decadent premises behind our innocuous online status changes, relentless photo tagging and brushes with the innumerable networks embedded within Zuckerberg’s creation. Not the least because Facebook could only have been a jolly real-time respite for most of us who can not escape the daily grind with a mad rush to party or reconnect with friends.

Whatever the gut human instincts propelling it into existence, Facebook had been home to honest human dealings, and even some clean advertising. These are the technologically fine-tuned tools of our day and perhaps these kids deserve more credit than their collegiate indiscretions. The cover and title though, are devices for an appealing read, and Mezrich’s storytelling approach could only bring us closer to the human side of Facebook. Perhaps this could be a call for universities to manage their IT talents better in hawkish environments such as Silicon Valley, but we can’t impugne Zuckerberg et. al. for wanting to be the coolest billionaires around.

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Women and Suffering

by Marc Romyjos

 

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We could scarcely distance ourselves from empathy founded on gender issues upon reading the ethnographies of Nisa and Rigoberta Menchu embodied in the books Nisa, the Life and Words of !Kung Women and I, Rigoberta Menchu (An Indian Woman in Guatemala). The kinds of suffering that these two women had experienced are not necessarily by-products of their womanhood, but as I see them, circumstances aggravated by their biological configurations. Thus, upon reading their life stories, it can not always be argued that being a woman signals eternal damnation in the cultures of these two women. Both of them had borne oppressive conditions from the start, but deflecting hardships became a matter of coming to terms with their own bodies and the roles prescribed for them by their societal milieu as women.

Hence the special attention that the theme of suffering will receive in this essay will be allied to the context of womanhood. There are potentially meaty reasons for such a choice. First of all, a difficult life presupposes strong responses from a person, and over the course of living these responses are bound to develop forms of resistance that are either inspired or limited by their experiences as women. I shall attempt to cite specific instances wherein both subjects struggled  liberating themselves in ways that befit their nature as individuals as well as  how both women had been molded by their cultural and environmental specificities.

The formation of the self will define responses preferred, be they futile or incensed resistance, by any of these two women. On several occasions both Nisa and Rigoberta had embarked on self-interrogations regarding puzzles in life and the environment. Their senses were either intentionally deployed or pushed to function by unfolding events that seemed strange, unjust and irrepressible on one hand, or totally empowering and provocative on the other. Moreover, both women are grounded on cultural traditions that exert both affirmative and discouraging pressures in the construction of their identities, and such cultural standards can not be ignored in the process of identifying their “selves” as differentiated from another sense of being defined by their respective cultural systems of origin. They are squeezed into roles that contrast with the unfamiliar persona they encounter while shifting territories. Therefore, ruminating about the self proves to be a rich, and consequently, chaos-inducing habit for these two women.

This is not to say that the processes leading up to their self-awareness always have to be enforced. Arguably, majority of their identity definition is culled from perceiving their environments in seemingly passive perception accompanied by tumultuous processing of ideas. Certainly, almost all individuals and not Rigoberta and Nisa alone are weighed down by a lack of comprehension for the multiple stimuli afforded by the immediate environment. By the term environment I mean to include the conditions of living that appear overwhelmingly larger than the individual and therefore seemingly uncontrollable. For Rigoberta, the coffee and cotton plantations are tainted by the hand-to-mouth existence that drives the rhythm of her life from which there seemed to be no escape. As for Nisa, the direct relationship that her people have with the natural environment is a source of survival, and is therefore complicated by its unpredictability. Nisa and her kindred are forced to bend themselves to the caprices of nature by altering certain habits in their nomadic lifestyle during periods of drought. The environments that engulf the two women had proven to be overwhelming hotbeds of feelings and association. They can appeal to the senses in very much the same way first sexual encounters or brushes with pain can— by inflicting, to a certain degree, that feeling of strangeness that can not be detached from the unexpected.

It is through such activation of the senses that both women developed ideas about their sex. Their sexual developments have always been framed by the things they come into contact with physically or psychologically, and are almost always linked to the general character of their lives. Therefore as nature rattles an individual’s indifference, questions about one’s existence are compounded by the physical aspect of existing—and this includes an awareness of the body and how to ply it in order to conform to the demands of people other than themselves.

In general, such formation of ideas about the self as initiated by the conditions of living and the receptivity of the subjects’ senses are carried over to gendered reflections about reality. Facing reality does not merely require a stable sense of personhood, but the advantages and drawbacks of being women in their respective milieu undoubtedly serve as pressure points for altering or adjusting their behavior. Hence, this is why we shall speak of the two subjects as women and not characters alone, for ultimately, the task of having a gender is not an instance but a formation they will have to progress in life with.

Lastly, being a woman also favors a unique form of commiseration that provides the contact and comparison with others who have suffered alongside them or who have more or less gone through the same difficulties. As I have observed in the two ethnographies, sharing angst and misery is not as easily fulfilled, even with subjects who were needing as much sympathy as Rigoberta and Nisa. It is only when they realize their suffering in terms parallel to or conflicting with another person’s that they derive enough confidence to pursue the action that appears right. With this, resistance is tackled in its two strains—one that is knee-jerk and gut-derived in nature but not necessarily unmotivated and another that is calculated and enlightened. As the first step towards fighting oppression is realizing that one is being oppressed, so does dialogue with other people who are more or less in the same position kindles the process of reasoning with oneself. The one who suffers begins to ask herself questions. How is she suffering? How is her suffering unique from what others are experiencing? What are the causes of her suffering?

Once these basic questions are answered by the subject for herself, she becomes more critical of certain power structures that brought her to such pittance. Nisa and Rigoberta may not have shared the same forms of suffering, but being women, they both became capable, in a gendered manner, of hurdling grievances that befall them by having profound visions of reality and the underlying structures that set it off to their disadvantage.

At first glance the contexts of the two women appear irreconcilable. Nisa had grown up in a subsistence economy, hence, one might be tempted to subordinate the gravity of her situation to that of Rigoberta. Rigoberta, on the other hand, had stared exploitation in the face as early as her childhood. Perhaps the proper labeling of her suffering is a more evocative device for the readers to identify with the subject of the ethnography. Nisa initially appears to be the more unfettered of the two women because there was supposed to be relatively more freedom to be enjoyed in an egalitarian, hunting-gathering and nomadic society, and power relations that are blatant in Rigoberta’s accounts do not seem as resounding in Nisa’s case. But at face value we can not dismiss Nisa’s suffering as more shallow. In fact, I do not think it should be our business to determine which woman is more vulnerable to suffering.

While Rigoberta’s travails stem from the dismal and inhuman realities of the finca, where they are subjected to the wily devices of landowners and the brute authority of the guards, Nisa’s own precarious situation is sourced from the uncertainties of her life. In fact, in the first few pages of Marjorie Shostak’s description of the field area, the ethnographer made reference to the Bushmen’s incessant begging for money, tobacco and employment—signs that contact with the outside world had disrupted the smooth functioning of !Kung culture. Indeed, Nisa was not immune to the same kind of poverty that Rigoberta knew so well. Both women, vague as the similarities of their circumstances may seem, are both circumscribed by a pervasive power structure whose realities are very much felt and yet, in the case of Nisa, concealed. One of the remarkable and yet overlooked facts of Nisa’s ethnography is the vast cultural gap between her and Shostak, the ethnographer. People see Shostak’s work as a form of reaching out, of embracing the idiosyncrasies of the other. That is palpable, to some extent. But the meeting of the ethnographer and the informant will always have an air of immiscibility for, in the mere choice of documenting a !Kung woman’s life, Shostak had already acknowledged the gap put in place by her privileged position as a Western woman and Nisa’s distant character. In fact, Shostak was wise in orienting her readers on the relationship of dependence nurtured by previous Western fieldworkers among the Bushmen. The latter have learned the ways of a dominant culture and have been lured by it; consequently, the stability of their existence was shaken by a foreign intrusion, however well-meaning it could have been. Suddenly, money was a problem, employment was a problem, and even obtaining tobacco was a problem. Such is the speed by which changes sprout in Nisa’s environment, and can be a very valid source of anxiety. Throughout her life Nisa had always grappled with phenomena she could only furnish simplistic explanations for, such as the fact of having to give oneself up to a man and his village upon marriage, of the painful persuasion into the sexual act whose logic she could not make sense of given her physical and psychological immaturity, and even the slight trauma of almost having been a witness to infanticide. Nisa had her share of decisions being imposed upon her despite her lack of preparedness. Her tradition had already demanded so much from her as a woman, and it seems that her marginal position will see no end once a larger system of power is introduced, the kind that Western fieldworkers have carried with them to Africa for all their development projects.

Rigoberta’s suffering seems to take on a more intense form, as descriptions of seedy working conditions pervade her ethnography. But she seems to exude a greater sense of control for her own marginalized position due to the exigencies of a cruel reality. She had frequently described how, in their Indian marriage customs, the grandparents of the betrothed parties launch into bitter accounts of land dispossession and murder under the unforgiving regimes of the ladinos. And Rigoberta herself had not lived these brutalities vicariously. She had seen her father tortured, her friend and siblings dead from having to endure squalid conditions, women from her own and the neighboring village repeatedly raped by soldiers. The effect on her is sore enough to last a lifetime. Being a woman, she could no longer fathom how such traumatic events could ever lead up to the possibility of her getting married and bearing children who will only be heirs to her victimized status. Moreover, she had also witnessed how women of her kind have taken to what were considered less than dignified ways of making a living such as cleaning up after snooty ladinos as maltreated maids or venturing into prostitution.

The impact of these traumatic events on Nisa and Rigoberta’s perceptions about themselves as women is a big factor in developing their respective ways of resisting oppressive conditions. Naturally, both of them were reacting to pain caused by the uncertainties of life and the exposure of their senses to pain that is physically manifested. For instance, Nisa’s reaction to the changes in her body caused by the onset of menstruation was one of withdrawal. She refused to go hunting with her husband. Also, as marriage customs among her tribe demanded her to make concessions about her body, that is, to give it up for sexual intercourse to a man she barely knew, she acquired the habit of running away periodically from her husband’s village and going home to her family. Taken as they are Nisa’s actions seem to simply border around the usual instincts against fear of unfamiliar experiences. However, drawing from her narration, such experiences were not alien to her at all. She had seen her mother menstruate, and during her pubescent years, she had picked up knowledge about sex from her playmates. But such innocent conceptions did not spare her from the transition to adulthood, a stage in life that lent weight to previously untainted ideas about sexual maturity and tradition. It was only when her own body became familiar with the more complicated aspects of these physiological phenomena that she was pushed to rebel. Nisa rarely had a clear design for resistance, and perhaps this points to her own ambivalence in responding to provocations that are completely beyond her comprehension.

For Rigoberta, pain was certainly rooted on her labors, and there had been times when her sexual development was overshadowed by her difficult life situation. She would bitterly recall that she had no childhood, for she had spent most of her days slaving away in the finca. In a way her sensibilities as a woman would have been permanently crippled had she not discovered the sufferings of other women. To begin with, she had seen how women suffer in her culture through her mother. Eventually, when she went out into the city as a maid, she became more aware of the double burden she was bearing—one of being considered of an inferior class and another of being a woman waiting to be taken advantage of by the patriarchal world as a sex object. Her fellow maid had confided to her how she had been commanded to initiate the sons of their mistress to sex. Furthermore, Rigoberta’s interaction with the raped women of the neighboring village allowed her to come to terms with her own anxieties as a woman. She began hypothetically placing herself in the same situation as her unfortunate counterparts. From then on, the status of women in the society she belonged to took on a concrete shape, and her role as a member of that society evolved from a pushover to a revolutionary. It can be said that Rigoberta’s critical self blossomed out of commiserating with her fellow women, and this gave her the chance to define her womanhood in more realistic terms.

Thus the role of others in alleviating suffering can not be downplayed. Fundamentally, exposure to persons who undergo the same or different difficulties provide answers to the laments enumerated before. In Rigoberta’s case, carrying her own cross did not seem an effective way to counter it. In fact, in her situation, it could have been difficult to detach herself from collective experience, for once the Indians have set in their minds who the perpetrators of the corrupted social order were, they realized their only weapon was to depend on each other for protection. Hence, on the subject of resistance, being a part of society gives an individual the edge to surmount her personal travails by turning to others for education about the self and ultimately, the whole realm of structures that profoundly affect an individual’s life. This point was very strong in Rigoberta’s ethnography.

For the two women who were tackled in this essay, achieving the means to resist situations that threaten to curtail their freedom involved a lifetime of conditioning. Their stories are actually accounts of such conditioning. Resistance came to exist for them as a process and not as an instantaneous undertaking. Furthermore, the development of their differing means of resisting was heavily influenced by their relationships with themselves, with others, and with their environments.

Summarily, the core concept evoked to provide insight to the idea of suffering as related in the two ethnographies was the formation of the self, and in an inextricable manner, the evolving concept of womanhood for Nisa and Rigoberta. Through the conditions they were subjected to in their environments, both women came across ways of viewing themselves at certain critical points in their lives when they were already being confronted by their society’s expectations from them as women. These exigencies were also accompanied by their increasing knowledge of the uses and capacities of their bodies, i.e., their child-bearing potential, the sexual roles they may have to play as a wife or as an exploited person, and unfortunately, even of the vulnerability of their bodies to abuse. They did not encounter these realities by themselves but always with the help of others during moments of commiseration, pure counsel, or simply in observation.  Their environments also sensitized their experiences enough to keep their personal development rolling psychologically and emotionally. All these elements accrue to a clear comprehension of suffering and to individuated resistance to it.

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