The bamboo dancers

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Alan Swallow, 1960 - History - 276 pages
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It's admittedly hard to get into this novel without some historical context. It was published in 1960, roughly fifteen years after the US "granted" independence to the Philippines. They were actually supposed to endorse it in in 1942, but the Japanese came and it was the Pacific War. The Philippines is supposed to be an independent nation, but how independent is it? Instead of one lingua franca it has two (Filipino and English); instead of one declaration of independence it had two (one in 1896 and the other in 1946). Its economy is stagnating, in part because of its colonial history, which pegged the Philippine peso and the entire economy to US trade and interests.
Ernie is a sculptor. He wants to make the Great Filipino Work of Art -- but what kind of art can possibly represent and glorify a country with that kind of history? He finds himself falling for a woman who's trying to get with an American man so she can get out of the Philippines. And then, some people say he even starts kind of falling for the American man. It's a love triangle.
The most difficult about reading NVM is, every word and every line is both intentional and understated. Whenever the narrator notices something, for example, the author is trying to tell us something about his psychology -- and, by extension, the collective psychology of Pinoys in that period. Half of the conversations proceed by innuendos and ellipses. The book wasn't meant to be sold at airports. So, the more you dwell on what's between the lines, the more interesting the book turns out to be!
 

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