Book Review by Jophen Baui
Gina Apostol in her “Acknowledgements; Recuperated Pasts”, The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata, writes:
“This book was planned as a puzzle: traps for the reader, dead-end jokes, textual games, unexplained sleights of tongue; but at the same time, I wished to be true to the past I was plundering. My concept of Raymundo is cut out of imagined cloth; but the details I conjured had to breathe through the web of his actual history. In addition, I needed to conceive Raymundo’s memoirs on my own terms, and so I banned theorists and many secondary sources from my diet."
Magnify Blindness (or Let a Blind Lead the Blind)
A Book Review by Jophen Baui
The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata doesn’t deviate from the usual hypothesis and deductions regarding the events leading to the 1898 revolution. However, the protagonist is both there and not there, always between involvement and simply knowing, calculating but never decisive unless forced into a situation, and passionate about books and reading. “The question”, however, “is whether the chief protagonist's soul is 'too narrow' or 'too broad' in relation to reality” in this case, to the germination of the 1898 revolution.
In June 1896, a crucial time in Philippine history, Andres Bonifacio sent Dr. Pio Valenzuela as an emissary to Dapitan to obtain Rizal’s opinion or agreement to an armed revolution. The Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or KKK led by Bonifacio, the Supremo, had, by then, recruited men and women from both the rich and poor classes of people and was aiming for no less than the country’s freedom from Spain. According to records of Philippine history Jose Rizal did not endorse the revolution, and is believed to have had remarked that based on insufficient arms and lack of logistics alone, the time wasn't ripe for a people's revolution.
In Apostol's novel, Raymundo Mata is with Dr. Pio Valenzuela during this errand to Dapitan. Raymundo Mata is Dr. Pio Valenzuela’s decoy who will help him gain audience with Rizal. In order to distract the Spanish wards, their script is that Dr. Pio Valenzuela will consult with Dr. Rizal about Raymundo Mata’s night blindness so that the doctor's errand would come off as a medical rather than a political mission.
At the time, Raymundo Mata works in a printing press, reads a lot, a college graduate who used to dream about becoming a writer, but now finds it tragic that in spite of his diploma, he has ended up as a regular blue-collar worker who is unpopular among his colleagues in the press. Bullied when he was a student, he is simple and a coward due to others making him believe as such. Nevertheless, he has become a member of the secret society KKK. He admires Andres Bonifacio, who, he has long discovered, loves to read, too, and he envies Emilio Aguinaldo – Miong, his childhood friend in Kawit – because Miong is a Mayor and commands authority wherever he goes, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t read that much at all.
Mata, witnesses and notes the details of Rizal’s Dapitan: a lush environment planted with fruit trees where Rizal has installed a water system; green forest surroundings where he roams around collecting butterflies to send to his friend in Germany; a wide clearing where he has built a clinic and conducts daily medical consultations –treating all sorts of illnesses that comes to him from all the surrounding areas; and with a school where he teaches fencing and other practical arts to young boys .
While noting the hero's busyness in detail, Raymundo Mata’s main question is implied: “In the thick of his activities, how is the man, Rizal, able to still find time to write?” Mata’s pre-occupation is with the writer – the author of Noli Me Tangere, a book he has read, and El Filibusterismo, which he hopes to read. In fact he steals a fictional third book still in writing by the time he leaves Dapitan with Dr. Pio Valenzuela, because he is sure that like the Noli, this next book will also be a good read. Raymundo Mata craves for Rizal’s words like a historian craving for clincher details in minor events that inform on the major events.
Face to face with Rizal, Raymundo desires to discover the writer. But in Dapitan, Rizal, the author, is not living up to his reputation as an author in the romantic sense, while Mata, the participant in history is not being a historian. In Dapitan everything is a clock-ish routine of practical, urgent matters and Mata’s desire for an autograph is always checked by his inferiority over what Rizal would think of him -- he, a simple working man in a printing press, brought to Dapitan not by his choice but by the bad condition of his eyes, which even Mayor Miong, his cousin-kababayan in Kawit knows to be without treatment. In the end, he gets Rizal’s autograph when Rizal signs the prescription pad with the medicines for his ailment.
What’s it All About
Apostol’s novel veers away from an inquiry on that historical mark that will lead to the 1898 Philippine revolution. As she stays true to the facts of the past, Apostol does not alter nor validate what is already assumed in historical records. Instead hers is an exposition of the reader Mata's attitude toward the writer Rizal. Mata sees irony in Rizal the novelist and Rizal the MacGyver of Dapitan. While he is in awe of the novelist, he does not ask any question nor comments nor reacts on any of the themes of the Noli.
Mata is not at all curious about history happening before him. He is more curious about the reason for Josephine’s tears (crying over her stillborn child). He is aware that a revolution is brewing, yet he doesn’t go deep into any debate or discussion about it, before, during, or after the revolution. Instead, like Forrest Gump, he just always finds himself at the right place or he is forced into it. However, unlike Forrest Gump, he doesn’t make the most of it, and misses the point of it all.
The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata problematizes the engagement of “minor” voices in history and parodies their chatter.
If Raymundo Mata were not a fictional character, why would one immortalize his memoirs into a book? Who would take a second look on his vulgarities, his sexual fantasies with the major women around that time of the revolution (Leonor, Oryang, K, and Segunda), his frustrations, and his notes on the Katipuneros, who, in the novel, were his batch mates in college?
Estrella Espejo, the editor, sometimes hails him as a hero as long as she can relate with an experience. By virtue of her age and wisdom, if she can recall a commonality in the experiences jotted, she would use it as a gauge for authenticity. Diwata Drake, the reader, reads some psychological meanings into Mata's dithering, procrastination, non-commitment. Mimi Magsalin, the translator, labors over Mata's words and finds them linguistically challenging. She has translated literally and is the first intervention between the memoirist (Mata) and an absent first reader. TrinaTrono, the publisher, finds the memoir novel, and so it has got to be sold as such, something new, something organic, or something ground breaking, which could win the publishing house a book award.
Within the novel's fictional space, nobody can categorically claim that he or she is the one closest to the truth of the Revolution. Four unreliable voices poke at a historically known fact, peeking at history's most ignored actors in the revolution, the Katipunero recruits. Then, Diwata Drake, Mimi Magsalin, Tina Trono, and Estrella Espejo are pittied against each other -- in small italic fonts on footnote trails, to muddle Mata's version of the 1898 revolution. It is amusing to listen to their voices debate over trivial matters. The fictional footnotes reveal that their personal agenda are also texts to be scrutinized. In fact, the novel basks in the luxury of setting out everything and everyone under scrutiny -- the katipuneros and their women, Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken, Dr. Pio Valenzuela, and Emilio Aguinaldo, and events in Philippine history which have not yet found closures as to their validity. Only Raymundo Mata is not exempted from this gaze. But Gina Apostol has set him up under a magnifying lens shrinking on one side and enlarging on another any authoritative stamp on his memoir entries.
A Theory of the Novel
Apostol Gina. The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata. Anvil Publishing. 2009
Martinez-Sicat, Maria Teresa. Imagining the Nation in Four Philippine Novels. University of the Philippines Press. 1994
Teozin, Lucio F. “Rationalism and Rebellion in the Heroic Confession”. Quest for Truth, A Study of Six Filipino Novels in English. New Day Publisher. 1990