by Jonah Basanta García
Striping the wands and the sages for the conventional magic show, Dean Francis Alfar’s Salamanca contextualized mysticism for the Philippines. It must be clear that what I am talking about is not the anting-anting noragimat but a metaphysical one; the one that cuts across culture while keeping its feet grounded on its roots. It is also something beyond the concept of the albularyo or mambabarang which can be your best or worst dream if you consider the superstitious nature of the country.
This wondrous fictional world started when the enchanted character, Gaudencio Rivera, has finally decided to be again with his ethereally beautiful Palaweñan wife.Yes, you’re right, the main character left his wife for some reasons and it will be easy to assume what are those, or you might also consider that those were just alibis – if you are a bit skeptic on it. Now, I will leave these for you to discover. Just a little reminder, yes, this is a love story, but there is more into it – it might be more politically appropriate to say that there’s the awareness of the multiple gender preferences and transcendental power of love.
Speaking of love, Dean was right, as long as we know love we will not run out of words. And he had mastered this art of not running out of words. Each chapter of the novel courts you to continuously entertain it while alluring you with the sonorous sound of it serenade. Feeding the innate consciousness of the readers that there exist a lot of mysterious events in the country, Salamanca vivifies the power of beauty by transforming a house into a transparent glassed one.
It seems that Dean perfectly mixed the sugar, spice, and everything nice and bitter in his secret potion to conjure his Salamanca. He effectively plays with that small man within all of us who always wanted to go behind the stage in order to see how the magic trick is done – thanks for this idea, Sir Ricky, who’s according to Lourd has spread his DNA strands to most of the writers in our time.
This is what makes the novel engrossing; it captivates our inner being which sustains the imagination; and this is one of the integral parts of the Filipino psyche. We tend to romanticize things and delve into the romantic concept of relationship which might be parallel – mind that I used the term parallel and not similar, for there’s a big difference between the two – to a trance – that state that opens the mind into a more suggestive state, which means that even the minute cues can change the stability of everything. This starting point which is engraved within our collective unconscious has been taken by Dean in to a higher realm of reality – or fiction if you may argue.
The novel jives with the colonial and postcolonial experience/s of the country. These fragments of theFilipinoness were luminously presented to build a rapport with its readers and refurbish who and what makes a Filipino. Being under more than three-century rule of the Spaniards, decades of imperial control by the United States of North America, short but brute occupation of the Japanese, and the bloody dictatorship – which seems to be a déjà vu at present – shaped the vivid portrait of the characters, events, and everything in between and beyond the novel. If I may argue, these colonial and tyrannical – past and present – experiences of this nation did not only give life to Dean’s alluring world, but to us as a people.
Dean being known as one of the foremost writers of Speculative Fiction in the country proves his unquestionable eloquence in this novel which bagged the Grand Prize for Novel of the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He was able to elegantly mix and match historical facts with in world of Salamanca. Thisattests to his adeptness as a writer in making an alternative world which can encourage you to live in there while consciously existing on earth. To use my personal description of Dean’s work, he created a desirable alternative universe juxtaposed with this existing one wherein you will definitely love to live on the edge while dancing the bachata and with a beret on.
Dean’s advocacy to write fantastic literature has established him in the literary field in the country and beyond. Mind that he has garnered ten Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature which includes the Grand Prize for his Salamanca in 2006. Two from his Siglo series were also recognized by the prestigious Manila Critic Circle for the graphic novel category. His three other books which are all collections of short stories furthermore fill up his unshakable foundation as one of the countries literary figure. He also continuously edits the Philippine Speculative Fiction Series.
If you are looking for a light reading which can also be heavy at some times, Salamanca is the best choice which can bring you from your place into the other side of the black hole.