Santos, Bienvenido N. (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Bienvenido N. Santos 1911–
Filipino short story writer and novelist who lives in America and writes in English. See also Bienvenido N. Santos Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
As the leading fictional spokesman for his fellow expatriates, Santos sensitively captures the pain of their homelessness. Scent of Apples includes stories selected from a 25-year span of writing, and its American publication has provided wider access to his work.
The imagery of return … [is consistently present] in the fiction of Bienvenido Santos. Yet, how the sense of humaneness which is Santos' trademark elevates this return into ritual, without becoming sentimental, is in some ways best illustrated from his poetry…. Appropriately, the voice of Bienvenido Santos' fifty poems, entitled The Wounded Stag (1956), is elegiac, scraped raw by havoc—yet heroic in its acceptance of the need to be responsive, to be responsible. It is the sound of endurance, denying that it must drop into silence unheard. Consequently, there is dawning vigor in each dying phrase.
In his introduction to this collection, Manuel A. Viray identifies three specific periods in Santos' life which correspond to the range of these poems: the Sulucan years of youth in Tondo slums; the wartime exile in America; and the return to a devastated native land. It is true that most of these poems are too heartfelt, too committed to human eventfulness not to have had long histories in the man's personal feelings. Yet it is a more important fact that the author himself has not attempted to arrange his work chronologically, according to those three "stages" in his life—perhaps to indicate that they were not stages after all, but rather replicas of one another. The earliness or lateness of Santos' poems cannot be distinguished, because evidently his life as poet has been marked not by development-in-time but by...
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Thematically, the novels of Bienvenido Santos share a natural affinity with his three volumes of short stories. His concern, consistently, has been with man's imperfect attempts to satisfy an innermost need to belong to others—to be able to say of a family, a community, a culture, a kind, that these are his. However, although the anguish of incomplete attachment is common to characters in both Santos' novels, the narrative surfaces of these two works make a striking contrast. Villa Magdalena is densely textured, highly organized, and unpredictable. In style, The Volcano, is open, direct, unsophisticated; in structure, straight-forward except for conventional flashbacks and shifts in angle of vision. (p. 76)
Two unlikely windows for looking into Villa Magdalena are the echolalia of Balatang, an otherwise ordinary house servant, and the rise of garbage collector Modesto Buan to the pinnacle of a cathedral-building religious cult, The Faithful. So large is the novel that these minor characters hardly distract the reader's attention from the Conde-Medallada household. Yet the echolalia epitomizes the recurring imagery of mirrors become a nightmare maze; and Buan is a parody of natural ambition gone berserk in its self-idolatry and manipulation of others….
Betrayal and infidelity are common motifs in the development of Villa Magdalena not merely to record a social phenomenon—the double...
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Rustica C. Carpio
[Brother, My Brother] is a collection of 23 stories, depicting the life of the Filipinos at home…. [In his introduction] Leonard Casper calls this volume "a painful journey" to man's heritage….
"Early Harvest" and "The Naked Eye" which both use the war for background are less interesting than the others. "Early Harvest" is told from the first-person narrator point of view. Selmo is the narrator, the eye-witness who gives the reader a close-up of incidents…. Selmo here recaptures the Christmas of 1941 when the Japanese come to [his] barrio….
["Early Harvest"] is too obviously contrived and the constant shifting of tone impedes its flow. Although the story uses the first-person point of view, it allows the reader to penetrate into the individual consciousness of the characters.
Since the language used is not consistent, the tonal quality is somehow hampered….
War is a very potent catalytic agent, Santos tells us. For, it hastens renewal and assertion of people's faith and makes them correct old erratic ways. They pray harder than they had ever prayed before. It unveils in man a new awareness—that men are still brothers no matter how different their colors or creeds may be. (p. 58)
When man dies, he loses his individual identity and becomes any other man. In ["The Naked Eye"] Santos asserts that man is a member of the brotherhood of men—one can be...
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Doreen G. Fernandez
When war broke out, the U.S. Office of Education asked [Bienvenido Santos] to tour America and lecture about the Philippines and Filipinos. This he did, meeting along the way fellow countrymen surviving in distant places … and many Americans who called him and his compatriots "you lovely people," thus causing him to change the title of the book [to You Lovely People] from the originally planned "The Hurt Men."
For the men and women to whom Bienvenido Santos gave a voice … [in these short stories] are indeed hurt. Santos uses his own voice and that of Ambo … to tell of these hurts. There is the hurt of spending a cold Christmas alone in a school dorm, without the warm Filipino accompaniments—family, midnight Mass, traditions. There is the hurt of the Filipinas who see Filipino men preferring blondes. There is the deep hurt of the Pinoy—the unlettered, ungrammatical Filipino, for whom Ambo speaks—who is ashamed of his English, his manners, the disdain of his own countrymen…. And there are the attempts to assuage the hurt: the jokes, the parties, the poker games, the bravado, the vain efforts to forget.
Santos well understands how even drive and ambition cannot lessen the pain of expatriation for the home-oriented Filipino. He knows too that "you can't [quite] go home again." The book begins with a Filipino in America longing for home. It ends with a Filipino in the Philippines "homesick" for...
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The difficulty of reconciling the Filipino dream of solidarity with the American dream of individualism, of unity risking and enriched by diversity, is implied in the mestizo form of You Lovely People. Many of its episodes are self-contained; others, with Ben at the circumference or Ambo (Pablo) at their center, provide a kind of continuity compatible with change…. Santos deliberately keeps center and circumference subservient to the circle of Pinoy compatriots—such is the book's socioesthetic. Both Ambo and Ben exist in that purest of compassions: shared suffering, as concelebrated offering.
In all of Santos' fiction, this compulsion to belong consistently raised images of departure and provisional return, of loss and attempted recovery. The structure of his second collection of stories, Brother, My Brother (1960), is generally recollective of an original flight from the Sulucan slums of Manila to the greater opportunities in the less crowded prewar barrios of Albay under the shadow of Mt. Mayon. Guilt that the relative ease has not been deserved or adequately shared creates an alternating current of tensions not unlike the expatriation/repatriation/reëxpatriation pattern in You Lovely People. The same longing for home and homogeneity serves as a central motif for his first novel, Villa Magdalena (1965)…. A second novel, The Volcano, also published in 1965, dramatizes the Filipino crisis of...
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Paul B. Phelps
Most of Santos' fiction examines the problems of progress and nationalism in the Philippines since 1945, but in this collection ["Scent of Apples"] he deals with those problems indirectly, through the stories of Filipinos who find themselves stranded in the United States. These stories form a loose suite, alternating between two narrators in order to portray two different generations of exiles. Ben, the first narrator, is an autobiographical figure, and the group of "hurt men" in his circle of poker-playing college friends—sons of landowners and professionals—who have been caught in wartime Washington….
These privileged young Filipinos remain self-absorbed until Ambo, an old gambler, introduces them to an earlier generation of exiles. From Ambo we hear stories of the Pinoys or "old-timers," Filipinos who have stayed abroad so long that their memories of home are shot through with nostalgic despair. They are rural peasants, for the most part, who came to America as plantation workers in Hawaii, as servants in San Francisco and as menials in a dozen dark cities. Few have gotten ahead, and, although many have become U.S. citizens, they have never been assimilated.
Santos is more sympathetic to these older, often destitute exiles, who are desperate to renew their fading memories of home. In the title story, a poor Pinoy farmer in Michigan drives a hundred miles just to see another Filipino; despite 20 years in...
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Maxine Hong Kingston
The stories [in "Scent of Apples"] have their settings in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Kalamazoo and many other cities of the Midwest—places where Filipino men, who have left families and communities behind, make precarious American lives. To protect themselves against brutality, they befriend one another and try not to forget Filipino manners, establishing a civility in skid row…. Mr. Santos's writing is very delicate, very fine, gently rendering "the hurt men," or "the boys," as they jauntily call one another….
The later stories are about pairs of friends who watch over one another. Western literature ought to have more such writing in praise of friendship, a strong tradition in Eastern literature. In "The Day the Dancers Came," the compadres are Tony, who is dying, and Fil, who tries to bring the dancers home…. [Fil thinks the Philippine dancers] will want to meet fellow Filipinos as much as he does, but to the dancers, he's just a strange old Pinoy….
[The] interweaving of the stories is a playful delight. Sometimes a minor character in one story takes a large role in another, like actors in repertory. (p. 28)
Mr. Santos seemed to have begun writing by using a narrator similar to himself, then created Ambo to experiment further with fictional distance. In the later stories, both narrators disappear, the main characters receiving all the attention, and the...
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