Para kay B [o kung paano dinevastate ng pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa atin] by Ricky Lee: Filipino vernacular as literary mastery

the novel over breakfast. photos by Every trip to the P.I. there's always the intentional trip to the bookstores. National, Power, Fully Booked, UP, Solidaridad, museum gift shops, used book shops in Mega Mall. It's not at all that I am a total bookworm or anything. It's just that I am still looking for that Filipino author that is up to par, for me anyway. And you know many Filipinos I have had this discussion with agree. The Filipino-English fiction writing is my most un-favourite. It's ... too flowery, generally corny, and inherently verbose. Kind of like what Carlos Celdran says about the Filipino aesthetic in architecture and design in general, overly decorated. I mean for me in terms of visual aesthetic, pwede yan. I am into it. Kaso lang, when I am reading corny ass musings of a msyogynist about some concept that clearly springs out of deep colonial mentality-- IN flowery, verbose Filipino-English... eew sobra na yan no! That's super nakakainis. I won't na mention any names.

Needless to say, I am still waiting with bated breath for the Filipino Jhumpa Lahiri, or Arundhati Roy-- Ria breaks out the book over breakfast. She asked me if I can read Tagalog. Hmmm. Parang hindi ata. See the spoken vernacular is so different than literary Tagalog. And there's no real in-between. She says this one is different. And Ria is very well-read, is a writer herself, and a taste-maker in her own right. She says this one is in Tag-lish [Tagalog - English]. I am so intrigued.

After I drink my Batangas coffee, fresh mango and papaya with a squeeze of calamansi, and tsokolate suman (from the organic market in Makati of local produce and food products from all over the philippines--truly amazing), I gave it a go.

"Para Kay B (o kung paano dinevastate ng pag-ibig and 4 out of 5 sa atin)" is Ricky Lee's first novel. Ricky Lee is an old-skool screenwriter. He’s super award winning. Wrote tons of screenplays of classic films, one that I remember from my childhood is Himala starring a young Nora Aunor, directed by none other than Ishmael Bernal. It’s got all the classic Filipino elements in a film: the Virgin Mary, a miraculous healer, suicide, cholera, rape, immaculate conception, and people praying, going up a barren hill on their knees. Anyway so there’s the context. Ricky Lee is amazing already... Para Kay B is his first novel.

"Me quota ang pag-ibig. sa bawat limang umiibig ay isa lang ang magiging maligaya. Kasama ka ba sa quota?"

The man, Ricky Lee - illustration by Ivan Reverente

Ok so I am reading real slow, because this Tag-lish is proper. Like it’s more Tagalog than English. It’s really the spoken language in the Tagalog regions. I am on page 21. I have to say I am so impressed! Ricky Lee is bomb. The imagery, the humour, the flow of the kuwento. Siempre, I have to read line over and over, kasi I want to savour every sentiment [and also to make sure I really understood the Tagalog].

This mastery of the vernacular is something that I have never seen, er experienced. This is it folks. This man has officially, in his first long, long, long -awaited first novel, defined the contemporary Philippine narrative.You know I am not a writer, so there is no possible way that I can even try to do a proper review. And besides, I haven't read the whole thing either. I am just saying...

This is also something that would completely lose its soul if it were translated into straight English. To access this gift is going to be the BEST reason why you need to learn Tagalog. Hands down. And don’t worry, this book is going to be a permanent fixture in the KAPISANAN library, we will wait for you to learn so that you can read it. Eto na to mga kapatid. Wala ng iba. And the good news is, he wrote 3 novels all at the same time, the next 2 are coming out soon!