It is no brainer that the Philippines is rich in resources, culture, and history. However, not known to many, we, the Filipinos, are rich in creativity too. From paintings, sculptures, songs, and even books, the Philippines is home to authors and writers who are more than able to compete internationally.
The literature of the Philippines is a reflection of the country’s traditional folktales, socio-political histories, and even true to life experiences. These books have long promoted our culture as Filipinos, our day to day struggles, and have established real-life lessons we could all live by.
So here’s a list of Filipino written books that I guarantee will be worth your time.
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), written by Dr. Jose Rizal, is the most controversial and well-known piece of literature the Philippines has. The book has impacted the country so much that it is included in the current education curriculum of Filipino high school students. The author, Dr. Rizal, the nation’s national hero, raised the social awakening of the Filipinos through this controversial piece. The awakening happened during the Spanish colonial era. During this time, Rizal could not swallow the injustices the Spanish priests and the ruling government gave the Filipinos. Noli Me Tangere was written to expose and shed some light on the issues of the Philippines’ society during the Spanish colonial era.
Mga Ibong Mandaragit (Birds of Prey)
Mga Ibong Mandaragit (Birds of Prey), written by Amado V. Hernandez, talks about the social-political issues, notably the Philippine revolution and neocolonialism. This literature piece is strongly connected to Rizal’s novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo. We, the readers can determine how the author, Amado Hernandez, a social activist had high hopes that there would be significant changes in his homelands society.
Florante at Laura
Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura), written by Francisco Balagtas is another well-known masterpiece in the literature industry of the Philippines. Florante at Laura is written in the form of “awit” or “poetry” if translated to English. This means there are four lines per stanza and twelve syllables per line. Set in the fictional kingdom of Albania, the book takes us to the journey of Duke Florante and Princess Laura, who is also being pursued by Duke Florante’s enemy, Count Adolfo. As a classic book, Florante at Laura has also been made into a play — not only widely known by high school students but has also been shown in grand theaters like Gantimpala Theater and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The Woman Who Had Two Navels
The Woman Who Had Two Navels, written by Nick Joaquin, is a historical book, authored by one of the most admired and loved authors in the Philippines. Nick Joaquin was awarded as the National Artist of the Philippines for literature in 1976. In his historical novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels, the author studies the effect and influence of the past towards the post-war events in the Philippines. Connie Escobar the female lead believes she has two navels. Hence, she asks a doctor to remove one — which symbolizes Connie’s need to run away from her traumatic past. Later in the book, she finds out that her husband, Macho Escobar, was her mother’s lover. She then runs away in hopes of escaping their betrayal only to stumble upon more life-changing truths.
Banaag at Sikat (From Early Dawn to Full Light)
Banaag at Sikat (From Early Dawn to Full Light) written by Lope K. Santos, has been labeled as the “bible of the Filipino working class”. Being one of the earliest novels authored by Lope K. Santos, it is reviewed by Teodoro Agoncillo, a Filipino critic, as one of the most important books in Philippine literature in 1949. Agoncillo believes that Banaag at Sikat (From Early Dawn to Full Light) paved the development of how Tagalog novels were written. The novel talks about Delfin and Felipe who have conflicting views. Delfin is a socialist, while Felipe, despite being born into a rich family, leans towards anarchism. Embedded throughout the book’s narration are themes of romance, livelihood, and societal status.
Ilustrado written by Miguel Syjuco, landed the author, Syjuco a spot on the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. He was awarded the Grand Prize. The novel, beautifully layered with fiction and non-fiction themes, begins with Crispin Salvador, the main character. Crispin a noted writer, was found by authorities floating off the Hudson River in New York — lifeless. With no evidence of foul play, the authorities were leaning into suicide as the cause of his death. His student, who has become a friend, Miguel Syjuco, (yes, the author himself), wishes to discover what really happened to Crispin and the mystery of his death.
Smaller and Smaller Circles
Smaller and Smaller Circles written by F. H. Batacan is a crime detective story. This thrilling piece is the first ever detective story set in the Philippines. The book revolves around two Jesuit priests, Gus Saenz and Jerome Lucero who do forensic work. In the slums of Payatas, there have been murders of young boys. As the book addresses that deal with corruption and inefficiency in the Philippine government, they now wish to find out why and who is behind the serial killings in the slums of Manila City. Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for English novel in 1999, was awarded to the author’s Batacan mystery novel.
Dekada ‘70 was written by Lualhati Bautista came about from one of the darkest eras in the Philippines, was during Ferdinand Marcos’ reign. People were executed and abused for speaking against the government; in some cases, dead bodies were not even recovered. Hence, that era was filled with turmoil — particularly for the Filipino parents who needed to protect their kids from the oppressive regime and at the same time keep their family intact. Lualhati Bautista used true to life scenarios during the 70’s. He mentions the changes that were sparked after the Plaza Miranda bombing and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Philippines. This book tells the tale of Amanda Bartolome and her family. In the book, Bartolome had to deal with facing the law and her five sons.
ABNKKBSNPLAko?!, written by Bob Ong, is a book authored by an anonymous Filipino whose pen name is Bob Ong. The title, written in the texting language can be translated to “Aba nakakabasa na pala ako?!” which translates to “Wow, I can read now?!”. This book narrates the contemporary authors unforgettable moments of his student life. The book begins at the very first time he entered school until his college days. Contrary to traditional novels, the book is filled with humour and uses conversational Filipino — this way it depicts the real-life situations in the Philippines.
Dogeaters, written by Jessica Hagedorn, is a fictional representation of the city of Manila during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines’ late dictator. The female lead, Rio, was a strong-willed school girl will grow up in America and look back to her memories of her homeland. Hagedorn depicts the struggles of Asian immigrants in between cultures. She also aims at the racism she’s seen in the United States in her fictional novel.
Dogeaters, no longer just a novel, has been shown as a multi-layered play that addresses social issues both in the Philippines and the United States.