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National Book Awards

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz - The Philippine Star

Last Saturday, Dec. 5, in the National Museum, the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board handed out the 34th National Book Awards to the best books published in the Philippines in 2014. Here are the winners and their citations. (Because italics and bold print are unwieldy in a newspaper column, I am using quotation marks for titles.)

JUAN C. LAYA PRIZE FOR BEST NOVEL IN ENGLISH (named after the author of the novel “His Native Soil,” which won the first prize in the Commonwealth Literary Contest of 1940): “Dwellers,” by Eliza Victoria (Visprint).

Speculative fiction works best when the transition from the real world of the reader into the fictive universe of the author is seamless. Under the masterful hand of Eliza Victoria, we are drawn into a mystery, as two people find themselves forced to deal with circumstances beyond their uncanny abilities. Deftly written with elements of horror and suspense, “Dwellers” is a more than worthy addition to the growing Philippine literature of the fantastic.

JUAN C. LAYA PRIZE FOR BEST NOVEL IN A PHILIPPINE LANGUAGE: “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon,” by Edgar Calabia Samar (Adarna House).

It takes more than just talent and grit to weave a tale of fantasy, to build new worlds and recreate our reality into something totally different without losing the reader’s sense of what is familiar. The challenge in this self-imposed balancing act is such that very few writers of fantasy can dive into the world of the fantastic and still have a vision of what is real. Egay Samar made sure the act of reading “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon” is an adventure.

BEST BOOK OF SHORT FICTION: “Wonderlust,” by Nikki Alfar (Anvil Publishing).

The book’s title aptly references the diverse settings and the edge of possibility found in these 14 taut, terrific stories. Nibbling on the very edge of the fantastical, “WonderLust: Stories” often juxtaposes banal, mundane set pieces with a single, shockingly speculative element. Funny and profound, the stories announce Nikki Alfar’s arrival as one of Philippine fiction’s standout talents.

BEST BOOK OF NONFICTION: “Ramon Obusan, Philippine Folkdance, and Me,” by Kanami Namiki (Anvil Publishing).

Just how influential has the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group been to the preservation and development of Philippine folkdance? What role did the founder, Ramon Obusan, play in all of this? The author, the Japanese dancer and dance expert Kanami Namiki, explores all of this in her definitive, insightful, and detailed take on the National Artist for Dance’s contribution to Philippine culture in “Ramon Obusan: Philippine Folkdance and Me.”

BEST BOOK OF ESSAYS IN ENGLISH: “Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami,” by Rey Ventura (Ateneo de Manila University Press).

An enthralling exposé of Rey Ventura’s first-hand encounters as a Filipino traveler, from Manila and Mt. Pinatubo to Snow Country and Fukushima, this collection of narratives entitled “Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami” transports the readers into their own voyage of travails and conquests across the seven seas.

BEST BOOK OF ESSAYS IN FILIPINO: “iStatus Nation,” by Joselito Delos Reyes (Visprint).

Brave. Ingenious. Versatile. Professor and poet Joselito de los Reyes gives his readers a peek not only into his mind but into the future of creative writing. It’s a style only a handful of authors can pull off, and Jowie, as he is fondly called, has done an excellent job at reinventing creative writing by introducing a genre that can only be aptly described as “social media non-fiction.” In “iStatus Nation,” Jowie takes the word and flies with it like arrows into the heart.

BEST ANTHOLOGY IN ENGLISH: “Agam: Filipino Narratives on Undertainty and Climate Change,” edited by Regina Abuyuan (Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities).

Marvelously and intricately conceived in prose, verse, and image, “Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change,” edited by Regina Abuyuan, portrays the Filipino people’s inextricable relations with their dwelling place and their heart-rending chances with nature and the environment. It is a trove filled with valor, hope, and redemption.

BEST ANTHOLOGY IN FILIPINO: “Ang Labingtatlong Pasaway,” by Jun Cruz Reyes (Visprint)

Putting together a collection of short stories with a liking for the transgressive places “Ang Labingtatlong Pasaway” where it rightfully belongs – within the very cauldron where a blast of light is needed. Tragic at one point, hilarious in the other, each story roars with each passing line, but evermore cognizant of the need to be understood, to be read using the language of the young.

OPHELIA ALCANTARA DIMALANTA PRIZE FOR BEST BOOK OF LITERARY CRITICISM / LITERARY HISTORY IN ENGLISH (named after the outstanding Philippine poet-critic, one of the founders of the Manila Critics Circle): “The Postcolonial Perverse, Volume 1,” by J. Neil C. Garcia (University of the Philippines Press).

Provoking at the same time that it enlightens, the first of two volumes of “Colonial Perverse: Critiques of Contemporary Philippine Culture” puts between two covers some of the major papers published and/or presented by perhaps the most postcolonially perverse critic today, the terms being defined the way the book defines them, namely, as necessarily contradictory / contrary in our hybrid culture.                                           (To be continued)

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