December 29, 2013

Shorts: FRCA 2013 Novel in English Finalists

This year, aside from volunteering as a member of the Online Marketing Team for the 3rd Filipino ReaderCon which successfully happened last December 7, I also decided to sign up as a judge for the Filipino ReaderCon Awards (FRCA), now on its second year. The task was pretty simple: read, assess, and deliberate with fellow judges which book in a given category appeals the best to the Filipino reader. Exciting, right? I knew I would be able to appreciate the novels written in English, so I specifically asked to be put under that category.

So I spent a large chunk of the month of October reading the three nominated books (on top of the chunkster Tigana that we had to read for the book club), but it was a worthwhile experience. Of course, it was difficult to be mum about the entire thing - deliberations and results had to stay confidential - especially when I am such a social media addict. :P Now that the FRCA is over and done with and the winners have all been announced (congratulations!), here are my notes on the three nominated books for the Novel in English category.

Woman In A Frame
by Raissa Rivera Falgui

My co-judges and I personally deliberated on the merits of this book and were unanimous in our choice (among other things). I was tasked to write a short citation for it, to be read during the awarding ceremony during the ReaderCon, and this is what I had to say:

Raissa Rivera Falgui's Woman In A Frame is a literary masterpiece. It takes all of the best elements of Filipino culture, history, and tradition and fuses them into a cohesive whole, consistently referring to familiar things, places, and events that are distinctly Filipino. It celebrates the equality of the sexes, magnifies the effects of centuries-long foreign conquest in present-day society, and honors the importance of family. Like an artist's magnum opus, Woman In A Frame is a beautiful work of art, a gem in Filipino literature.

The foregoing paragraph pretty much sums up what I (and my co-judges - hi, Aaron! hi, Ayban!) thought about this book, so I will stop at that. Besides, the award already speaks for itself, right?

Rating: ★★★★
Book Details: Digital edition

Salingkit: A 1986 Diary
by Cyan Abad-Jugo

Personally, it was a toss between this book and Woman In A Frame - I appreciated both novels because (1) they were both set in important eras in Philippine history, albeit hundreds of years apart, and it is no secret how big a fan I am of historical fiction, and (2) they were both, in my humble opinion, very well-written. I guess, what set Woman In A Frame apart from its co-nominees was the fact that it tackled more relevant themes and motifs than the other two.

But Salingkit also had its merits. Set during the EDSA People Power I revolution, which put an end to decades of martial law under the Marcos administration, Salingkit is the coming-of-age story of Kitty Eugenio, Depeche Mode fangirl and certified martial law baby. Kitty's journal entries revealed her innermost thoughts about her group of girlfriends, her young beau, her desaparecido father and OFW mother, and also detailed the country's political scenario during those chaotic years, told from a young teenage girl's oblivious eyes. Kitty was, after all, from the outside looking in. A salingkit.

Rating: ★★★★
Book Details: Trade paperback, brand-new, bought from NBS, my own

Voices in the Theater
by A.S. Santos

My co-judges and I were unanimous in our opinion of this book, as well - we all wanted to like it, that much I can vouch for, but it failed us miserably. For one, the I-can-see/hear-dead-people-or-other plot has kind of fizzled over already, and for another, I didn't like the seemingly high-brow, rich-kid personalities of the main characters. And then when the angels started to appear... that was that.

I also honestly didn't know how to assess Samantha, the college girl protagonist, and her issues because there were so many, and they all came hurtling at me one by one from out of nowhere, by the way. What was she, really - powerfully, preternaturally gifted, a victim of circumstance, or both?

The book was too full of over-rated, eyeroll-inducing scenes and devices that I couldn't help but, well, roll my eyes half the time I was reading it. The other half, I spent feeling agitated because I know there are other books worth the time reading. I am appreciative of paranormal and occult works, yes, but this chopsuey of a work just didn't cut it for me.

But don't take our word for it - read this book if you're curious. Just don't say we didn't warn you. :P

Rating: ★
Book Details: Digital edition

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