A retrospective review:
BUT FOR THE LOVERS
by Wilfrido D. Nolledo
cover art by Barbeio Barros Gizzi
1970 E.P. Dutton & Co.
1994 First Dalkey Archive Edition
Copyright 1970 Excerpts from http://winepoetics.blogspot.com
by Eileen Tabios, August 26, 2003
BRINGING IN FROM THE COLD: WILFRIDO D. NOLLEDO
There's some ongoing discussion on Filipino-American novels on the Flips Listserve. A series of titles was shared.
Then Paolo Javier mentioned,
THE text that really got me back into reading Philippine Literature was W. Nolledo's BUT FOR THE LOVERS. This book was a real watershed read for me in college, but I didn't so much read it as read THROUGH it...opened my eyes (& heart) to the phil lit section in my college library, which was surprisingly vast (I attended the University of British Columbia)((go figure)). They even had a first edition of the book, published in '71 i think (!!). so do check it out. . .
I immediately and enthusiastically zipped out the following post to the Flips List: "I am so happy Paolo mentioned Wilfrido D. Nolledo's novel, BUT FOR THE LOVERS! This is one of my top two favorite novels ever written by a Filipino author."
I'm a bit surprised now at realizing I've never blathered enthusiastically about this book before. I've long wished to see the type of consistency in energy as well as diction as I've seen in this book . . . particularly when (in my experience) it's not as mentioned as frequently by those who would teach or create *lists* of Filipino American literature.
This novel was first published in 1970 by E.P. Dutton & Co. My copy happens to be the 1994 First Dalkey Archive Edition.
Here's a one-paragraph excerpt:
Whenever the boy was away, Hidalgo gave imitations of foliage to the girl. This recital carried him into: alder, myrtle, deodar, linden. He shaped sepal in his hands and spoke of fatal fragrances. On this personal stage the old Spaniard performed with love and variety for he knew his blushing audience would follow him into the restlessness of his art. He had only to mimic the mating call of cauliflowers and she would reward him with unfeigned, even tearful laughter. Posturing on his wriggly cane, he would amble into center light and venture in the delicate rhythm of liche. In his preludes, he was always gay, flamboyant. To this she curtsied, joining him breathlessly, his father's book of dichos in her hand; and together they would take a bow.
THAT is a Prose Poem in itself, and yet that paragraph is obviously just one of many in a 316-page book.
Definitely, let's recover this novel out of its undeserved (relative) obscurity. This is the kind of book that, had it been touted over other (cough) choices, would have eased the global reputation of Filipino literature being great writing. Indeed, according to Robert Coover's introduction in the Dalkey edition, this novel was published in 1970 by E.P. Dutton and its editor was the legendary Hal Scharlatt who died (not yet forty) on an indoor tennis court. Coover says that, "Without Scharlatt, Nolledo had no one in the industry to champion his writing. Thus it was that one of the best books of the decade, abandoned by its own publisher, came and went virtually without notice.
Well...what a shame! And don't let us be naive in believing that writing well suffices for marketing and distribution purposes. Writing well suffices for . . . writing well. Marketing and distribution is something else. So let's spread the word on Nolledo's novel. . . TODAY.
So, okay: I was enthused. I am still enthusiastic. Note that Coover didn't call this novel one of the *best Filipino novels* out there; Coover called it "one of the best books of the decade" regardless of the author's ethnicity. So Nolledo has never received the attention he deservesand it's time to rectify that. Apparently, Melissa Nolledo-Christoffels (Nolledo's daughter) is setting up a website that hopefully will serve to introduce Nolledo to a new generation of readers. Great! I look forward to it. Until then, here's another excerpt from Nolledo's novel, BUT FOR THE LOVERS.
HE WAS BEGINNING TO EAT FLOWERS and the crescent moon was in his eyes when he awoke again. One night long ago when they had intercepted a code from the enemy on the shortwave and had not needed him anymore, they pulled out their tents, mantled him with leaves, and left him. They left him a rifle, a buri basket and a book of psalms, for the major had decreed in defense of this murder: Let the little legionnaire lie here and die; it is written, it shall be read. But the boy went on sleeping and did not die and when he awakened it was to see (it was to find himself alone) a bird, a whitewinged maya dart in from the west, perhaps headed for the monsoon. Steadying the Springfield, he cocked the hammer with a quivering thumb, and waited. It flew away, whatever it was, and now he squinted up and remembered that it was the first time in a long spell he had seen the sky, and he thought: It is longer, lonelier and lovelier than any of my prayers. He sighted the nimbusan eagle in captivityand fired.
* * * *
In a posting to Melissa Nolledo-Christoffels, Paolo Javier shared the following:
Though I really cannot overstate the importance of your father's book (and work) to me. To elaborate a bit on what I had shared earlier: I was in my second year of studies at UBC, feeling miserable, lost, and in total disrepair (emotionally) about my lot as a writer in a depressingly white environment, totally unhappy with the curriculum offered (I was in the Honors English section, which made the reading list that much more conservative / eurocentric ) . . . oh man.
And then, one afternoon I came across a Pinoy newspaper published out of California in my mom's room. I read through it, and found a review of your father's book, with the title of the article in caps reading: "The Great Filipino Novel?". I was intrigued, and the information provided by the reviewer was enough to spur me on to order the Dalkey Archive Edition of BUT FOR THE LOVERS. Mom picked it up for me at the local bookstore during one of her grocery trips to the mall, and even paid for it, likely out of amusement over my sudden interest in Pinoy Lit.
Well, I think I spent about a day or two just admiring your father's picture (a brown man's face in the back of a novel published in North America), as well as the praise sung by Robert Coover in the foreword (I was keen on going to Brown University at the time, and Coover was one of the writing heads there). And then, of course, I read the book . . . .
The funny thing about the passage you quoted for the rest of us in your last emailI kept reading that first page of the book when I first got it, my hands trembling as I read it, mesmerized by the incantatory nature of the writing to the extent that I memorized it enough so that when I'd talk about the book with friends shortly after, I'd simply repeat that entire passage to them...yes, the experience was that profound.
* * * *
For other published works, interested parties can contact New Letters Quarterly (Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City, MO 64110) for a 1973 Winter Edition copy (if they have vintage copies) for RICE WINEand a dissertation of the American literary critic, Jackson Cope, on BUT FOR THE LOVERS. There is also Princeton University's Quarterly Review of Literature in New Jersey which published CADENA DE AMOR in its Vol. XVI (1971). The Univ. of Iowa's Iowa Review published another Nolledo short story, "Moratorium Est Finie," in a 1971 edition. [Notes from Melissa Nolledo-Christoffels.]
Available at: www.philippineexpressions.com