Eros Atalia
Ang Ikatlong Anti-Cristo
Book Review by Jophen Baui

Overall, after reading this book, I thought about the relevance of matching language and theme. Is my own ear for the Tagalog language perhaps more 'antiquated?" Or is the novel just too lightly rendered vis-a-vis a plot that was supposed to make my hair stand on end? I ask this because in spite of the detailed description of setting and the intimately observed incidents, this novel has not been successful in letting me into the suspense or the horror or the catastrophic experience in pertinent scenes in three short nights of reading. 

But what I appreciate in Mr. Atalia's latest opus is the passionate rendition of the Catholic rituals. Surely, there are other novels which have described the Catholic symbols and relationship of the faithful to their religious idols and the priesthood, but Mr Atalia, in loading up vivid pictures of various sacraments is at the same time casting doubt on their value to real life questions.  His descriptions cloak the novel with royal texture which is simultaneously erased by so light-a-language, effecting a near-sacrilege. One motif of this novel is the catastrophic incident: falling bricks or stones of church or other buildings, due to an earthquake or a construction oversight, instantly killing a mass of people and burying them on site. Yet, as in real life, these happen without any premonition. In spite of the persisting superstitions, nobody in this tale has ever forebode a catastrophe in the magic realist way. 

The main cast in this story are spot-on about the rituals of their faith, but ambivalent about their ethical dilemmas. Often, their response is as the Mayor says, 'I sell out," like, everybody does 'sell-out.' Many are fatalistic idolaters, except for the Third Anti-Christ who had always sought for explanations on unfortunate events happening both to himself and his parish. The novel presents the biblical notion of the anti-Christ and peppers this very notion with fallacious end-time predictions already in the collective memory, and yet so isolating when taken seriously. The gregarious Pinoy isn't one to get overwhelmed with the 'fact' of the anti-Christ. 

While the story is sharp about amorphous beginnings and sharp endings, there are no tracks to follow from point A to point B, and life goes on unplanned. Any seriousness is instantly diminished because the character just moves on, even after a natural calamity, perfectly performing her duties in a religious festival.

In fact, there is no scarcity of jokers in this novel, and the laugh-out-loud times highlight both the ordinary Pinoy's pakikisama  and the uncritical nature of his subjection. Eating together is always a delicious event, and once the food is there (and with its sumptuous description of home-cooked food, reading this novel made me hungry), everything becomes less scary and threatening. 

Like other Philippine mythical creatures of the dark (kapre, manananggal, tikbalang, white lady, nuno sa punso, or the generic multo) a priest as son of the devil would need more than a grasping of the cross of Christ to get saved from hell. For him to be redeemed, a whole town needs to break away from their idolatrous attachments, and stop seeking quick fixes for their personal problems. Possession is as real as corruption, but Satan cures only the possessed -- and spectacularly -- to distract the prisoners of fate. As in all tropes like this in Filipino literature (and film), a whole town celebrating what seems to them miraculous only magnifies the obvious: that the truest miracles aren't spectacular. Sometimes, like the rejection of deceit, it is often without audience, not lauded in media or celebrated in a concert of praise. 

Only in the Philippines! (Share your Pinoy encounters)

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