The second Pinoy book I’d comment on is Para Kay B (O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa Atin) by acclaimed scriptwriter Ricky Lee (see his Wikipedia entry here).
I’ve previously read only one of Lee’s books, the script-writing manual Trip to Quiapo, which, as a poor university student, I read at the National Bookstore over a two-week period.
I’m not really a big fan of Lee’s film scripts. I find them way too contrived for my taste.
I was however interested in Para Kay B because many of my friends mentioned it in Facebook and then eventually a friend who moved back to Manila gave me his copy.
This book is mainly in Tagalog and it was quite an effort for me to read it coz I hardly read Tagalog books, my mother tongue being Portuguese (I come from Brazil, remember?).
Seriously, the last Tagalog novel I read was Dekada 70 and that was like about ten years ago or something.
In the case of Para Kay B, it took me many pages before I got the hang of the language, which is really a key step because more than anything else, the most striking aspect of the book is exactly that: its language.
Lee’s use of Taglish (combination of Tagalog and English) gives the book a rather colloquial flavour and an easy fluidity.
In fact, I appreciated more how rich present-day Tagalog has become as Lee’s writing proves. A sentence in his book for instance can have Tagalog, English, and Spanish words, which is exactly how Pinoys converse these days.
As such, Lee’s writing is very accessible and goes perfectly well with his aim of making Para Kay B as widely read as possible.
In his Pahabol... “Gusto kong basahin ako ng lahat – nakasakay sa MRT, nagbabantay sa ospital, nagpaptulog ng anak. Gusto kong magkuwento sa lahat, hindi lang sa mga kapwa manunulat or mga nag-aaral ng literature.”
With that said, what is Para Kay B exactly all about?
Marketed as a novel, the book appears more like a collection of short stories... love stories in particular.
It revolves around a Writer’s (as this character was initially introduced) thesis that: “Me quota ang pag-ibig. Sa bawat limang umiibig isa lang ang magiging maligaya. Ang iba, iibig sa di sila iniibig. O iibig nang di natututo. O iibig sa wala. O di iibig kailanman.”
Five short stories about women characters are thus unravelled, and from what I can remember these were about a woman who is looking for her childhood sweetheart, an incestuous relationship, a woman who lives in a world where love does not exist, a lesbian love affair, and a woman who is mainly driven by lechery.
With such brevity, each of the characters are well fleshed out, perhaps largely because a scriptwriter like Lee should be able to conjure all these well-rounded characters.
Add to that, they are mostly laced with quirks, such as the woman who has a sharp long-term memory; another woman is preoccupied with fairness (NOT the skin color!); and a lesbian mother is bothered with having a gay son.
With this bevy of very pretty eccentric characters, each of the short stories are full of irreverent vigour that of course also tugs at the readers’ heartstrings while staying humorous in most cases.
In the story of the woman who comes from a town called Maldiaga where love does not exist, she finds her self in the real world and thinks: “Ang nakikita nya ay isang bansang ang mga mamamayan ay wala nang ginawa kundi ang ma-inlove araw araw... Ang mga kanta, ang mga libro, ang TV ay wala nang ginawa kundi turuan ang mga tao kung paano umibig.”
In another instance, the Writer realizes: “Dahil hindi mo puwedeng mahalin ang isang tao nang hindi mo minamahal ang hilaga, silangan, timog, at kanluran. Kapag nagmahal ka’y dapat mong tanggapin bawat letra ng kanyang birth certificate. Kasama na doon ang kanyang libag, utot, at bad breath.”
Lee’s book is indeed peppered with numerous witty lines that kept me nodding, giggling, sighing, and tabbing line after line after line of his prose.
There are a few forced and false notes though, such as: “So long as aware ka in the end, love is inevitably connected with ideology. What we do, even falling in love, is a political act.” Uhmmm...
Ultimately, Lee’s book is about LOVE, AMOR, PAG-IBIG... very, very, very Filipino indeed, who are quite a love-obsessed lot bordering on the extremely cheesy.
At the end of the book one of his characters realizes that: “Although he never fell in love again, he grew old with a fondness for people who fall in love, sa isang bansang hanggang sa huli ay binabaliw pa rin ng mga kuwento ng pag-ibig at pagpapaibig, sa TV man o sa tunay na buhay.
While Lee gives us these moments of brilliance, things took a wrong turn when he attempted to tie the stories of the characters together.
Here he steps into Murakami territory where the characters talk to the Writer and demand that he revises these women’s stories.
I would not put more details on how it concludes but for me that was one major low note of the book as no matter how Lee tries to make sense of the absurd he just fails.
In the end, the women become a heap of unremarkable characters. They all drown in the confusion and as a reader I have forgotten their stories altogether.