cover image Dusk


F. Sionil Jose. Modern Library, $19 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-375-75144-8

Tapping a mostly unknown chapter in American history, Jose, one of the Philippines' most prominent authors, has created a vivid chronicle of Filipino life on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Set in the deep Filipino countryside in an area penetrated only by the Catholic church, the novel charts the fortunes of Istak, a member of the Ilokono tribe who trained as an acolyte under a kind priest. Able to speak Spanish and Latin and more comfortable writing than farming, Istak finds himself distanced from his family's simple village life. Driven off their land, Istak's family is beset on all sides, traveling across unknown territory and under attack by other tribes and Spanish soldiers. Istak's emerging political awareness coincides with the invasion of the Philippines by American forces, and he finds that his educated status obliges him to play a role in this conflict as well. Jose recalls Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his concern for the effects of national politics on peasant life, though this book doesn't match Marquez for character sophistication or verbal acrobatics. Readers unfamiliar with the history of the region may wish for more background on the prevailing political conditions--which are probably well known to the book's original audience. Jose also never provides much insight into the ""enemy""--either the church or the invading Americans. Still, this novel is a solid introduction to one of Southeast Asia's most respected voices. (May) FYI: Jose is editor and publisher of the literary journal Solidarity, as well as founding president of the Philippines PEN center. Dusk is part of his five-part Rosales saga. A previous novel, Sins, was also published in America by Random House.