The superiority of N. V. M. Gonzalez’s novels lies principally in their ability to provide social realism without submitting to sentimentality, at one extreme, or to any doctrinaire program of violent reform at the other. This same authenticity of character and situation acquits him of the charge of being a mere imitator, even though age-old struggles between peasant and proprietor, between barrio and city values, recur in his work. They do so not because of slavish adherence to literary formulas but because basic social patterns have persisted in Philippine culture for hundreds of years: It is to these patterns that Gonzalez is true, and in response to them that his vision has remained constant.
The Winds of April
Even in his autobiographical first novel, The Winds of April, written in his youth, Gonzalez presents attitudes that reappear in his short stories and later novels: an attachment to the array of creatures on land and sea, a respect for the men and women whose lives depend on nature’s whims and their own unflagging efforts, and a dream of surmounting these hazards without forgetting them, by moving to cities where opportunities for education and for writing about one’s discoveries and their implications abound. At the same time that The Winds of April describes the aspirations of the author from birth to young adulthood, it captures the hopes of a whole people on the verge of independence from the United States. Virtually all the copies of that novel, along with hopes for a smooth transition to national sovereignty, were destroyed during World War II.
A Season of Grace
What emerges in A Season of Grace, during postwar reconstruction, is a view less naïve but still based on the courage and determination of a people who find in hardship the same promise of life’s renewal that the rich volcanic ash of their soil offers their labor. They do not arise abruptly, miraculously, like the phoenix from those ashes, but their right to stand erect is wholly and undeniably earned, if only gradually, painstakingly.
The young married couple, Sabel and Doro, who leave the overworked plots of Tara-Poro and the fishing barrio at Alag to claim interior kaingins of their own on Mindoro, are in many ways like adult children. The cadences of Gonzalez’s prose resemble rituals of survival, marked by seasons of seedtime, caretaking, and harvest. The action encompasses slightly more than one year’s cycle in this couple’s efforts to restore a wilderness to its garden state, although Gonzalez knows well that slash-and-burn techniques can destroy more than they cultivate. Petty officials requisition several intricately and meticulously woven mats from them. Their merchant landlord, Epe Ruda, maintains the rule that debts double if they are not repaid in time. Yet after the year covered in the novel, Sabel and Doro are not quite so impoverished as before and they have two male children; they are likely to endure and prevail.
The year has not been one completely filled with favors. Their friend, Blas Marte, once debt-free, has become a sharecropper for a usurious rice merchant. Their own rice sack hangs empty for months, and there are nightmares, premonitions of death and disaster. Multitudes of rats attack their harvest, as greedily bent on...
(The entire section is 1372 words.)