Regarding Nick Joaquin

ROSES & THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces   (The Philippine Star) Updated November 10, 2009 12:00 AM

As part of the 13th Philippine Book Development Month, the National Book Development Board (NBDB) has selected Nick Joaquin as their artist of tribute. In an age where conservation and preservation of our historic and cultural national matrimony has reached a critical state, honoring an author who honored our history is especially appropriate. This was both the gift and curse of Nick Joaquin. He would write eloquently about traditions lost and bygone eras — subjects that did not excite the imagination of some modern readers (mores the pity for them). But, in doing so, he saved those now-forgotten histories in written word. If not in person, through his stories, we can relive the La Naval de Manila procession through the streets of Intramuros or discover the Mass of St. Sylvestre every New Year’s Eve.

Nick Joaquin passed away five years ago. At the time of his passing we wrote: “He was baptized Nicomedes Joaquin and given the name Onching. He became known as Nick Joaquin and is undoubtedly the greatest we have produced in our times. He has captured our Hispanic past as it was not captured even during the Spanish era. Sometimes he used the name Quijano de Manila. Quijano is an anagram of Joaquin but it was also the name of the Man from La Mancha before he took the identity Don Quixote. So his pen name stood for Don Quixote de Manila. And that is how he was known — our Quixote.”

Is the work of trying to save and preserve Philippine culture and history an act of tilting at windmills? We do not believe so and neither did he.

One of Nick Joaquin’s strengths was his ability to bring to life his subjects. The idea that history is a dry and dusty subject is proven false by his stories. Nick Joaquin’s play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino ends with the La Naval de Manila procession in Intramuros. Now that procession is held outside Intramuros, it just is not the same at all. The truth is that old Intramuros no longer exists — except in the short stories and plays of Nick Joaquin. And that is his great contribution to Philippine literature. The NBDB book club is currently reading Nick Joaquin’s Martial Law era thriller, “Cave and Shadows”. They are also planning an all day symposium on Monday, November 16, 2009 entitled ‘Reading Nick Joaquin’. According to the site it will be, “A discussion of Nick Joaquin as historian, novelist, poet and his contributions to the literary art form and the Filipino way of life”. Subjects covered will include his non-fiction works (a talk by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo); his poetry (a talk by Alfred Yuson); transforming his works to film, and a film viewing.

To the discussion we would like to make a suggestion. We do not have a classic Filipino Christmas story. But we have a classic Philippine New Year’s tale. The unfortunate thing is that very few people have read or heard of the story. In my judgment, it is the most imaginative and creative story Nick Joaquin has written. In the story Mass of St. Sylvestre, the character Mateo el Maestro witnesses the lost procession of St. Sylvestre on New Year’s Eve. The promise is those who see it are granted immortality. Alas for Mateo, he gets his wish. We have often wondered what a great movie director could do with this story.

This is the best way to honor Nick Joaquin: by reading his works. We do not know of a single person who has regretted reading his works. You will know yourself, and your country for the better.

For more information on the 13th Philippine Book Development Month please visit the NBDB site at or call 9209853.


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