Bienvenido N. Santos Critical Essays


(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.

Leonard Casper

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1317 words.)

Leonard Casper

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 1271 words.)

Rustica C. Carpio

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 1274 words.)

Doreen G. Fernandez

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Leonard Casper

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Paul B. Phelps

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 385 words.)

Maxine Hong Kingston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 360 words.)