Bienvenido N. Santos 1911-1996
(Full name Bienvenido Nuqui Santos) Philippine-born American novelist, poet, short story writer, autobiographer, memoirist, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Santos's works from 1975 through 2001. See also, Bienvenido N. Santos Criticism.
Santos is best known for his short stories and novels that explore the Filipino-American experience. Critics praise his sensitive and poignant portrayals of Filipino immigrants in the United States struggling with loneliness and alienation. These works have earned him a prominent place in Filipino American literature.
Santos was born on March 22, 1911, in Manila, Philippines. In 1941 he received a government scholarship and studied at Columbia University and Harvard University. He received his M.A. in English from the University of Illinois. During World War II, when the Philippines were invaded by Japan, he worked for the Philippine government in exile in Washington, D.C. In 1955 he published his first collection of short stories, You Lovely People. In 1961 he was appointed dean and vice president of the University of Neueva Caceres in the Philippines, a post he held for five years. He taught at several universities, such as Ohio State University and De La Salle University in the Philippines. With the serialization of his novel The Praying Man (1982) in the Philippine-based magazine Solidarity, Santos garnered much critical controversy. The novel focuses on political corruption in the Philippines, and it was banned by the government of Ferdinand E. Marcos. Santos went into exile in the United States; in 1976, he became an American citizen. He received several awards for his work, such as a Guggenheim fellowship in 1960, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1958, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982. Santos died on January 7, 1996.
Critics have subdivided Santos's work into two categories: those works that explore life in the Philippines, and those focused on the Filipino immigrant experience. In the former group are such novels as Villa Magdalena (1965), The Volcano (1965), and The Praying Man. In The Volcano an American family living in the Philippines struggles to survive the Japanese occupation during World War II and rising anti-American sentiment after the war. The latter category includes works such as The Man Who (Thought He) Looked like Robert Taylor (1983), Memory's Fictions (1993), and the short fiction collection You Lovely People. In these works, Filipino immigrants are torn between their new lives in America and their nostalgia for their old lives in the Philippines. For example, in “The Day the Dancers Came,” an old Filipino man named Fil is excited to show a troupe of Filipino dancers around his adopted home of Chicago. When the young dancers ignore him, he feels disconnected from his roots and alienated from his new life. In the autobiographical Memory's Fictions, Santos chronicles his own experience as a Filipino immigrant and his difficulties adjusting to life in the United States.
Santos is considered an important voice in Filipino American literature. Reviewers commend his fiction, poetry, memoir, and essays as a powerful exploration of the Filipino immigrant experience. They identify and discuss the recurring thematic concerns of his novels and stories, such as loneliness, alienation, and the corruption of innocence. Yet some critics have derided stylistic aspects of his fiction, particularly his nonlinear narratives. Whatever the critical consensus on his work, he is viewed as a significant author of Filipino American literature.