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On Tagalog Romance Novels

Lit, Actually


LIWAYWAY Vol. 2 #15
July 29, 1946, Liwayway Publications
Cover art by Hugo Yonzon
Courtesy of Gerry Alanguilan and The Philippine Comics Art Museum

Pinoy Pop Literature, by its very nature, appeals to a broad audience because it is able to illustrate human relations and situations in fantasy settings. Liwayway Magazine, one of its most enduring forms, had its maiden issue in 1922. Liwayway Publications closed in May 2005. The magazine’s new publisher is Manila Publishing Corporation, publisher of The Manila Bulletin. In the 1930s, according to Bienvenido Lumbera, it reached “a popularity level that destined it as a major factor in the development of 20th century Tagalog literature, particularly fiction.” [1]

For more than five decades, Liwayway has had a grip on mass readership, attracting readers to its serialized stories and not least of all, for its entertainment section and romance stories. It was also home to many developing Tagalog fictionists and scriptwriters. Majority of its readers were women: housewives, vendors, maids, secretaries etc. Lumbera accurately points out that “this meant that writers schooled in fiction coming from the West had to discard technical and stylistic borrowings with which Liwayway readers could not be expected to be familiar." [2]

The significance of Liwayway and other pulp magazines that followed is that it paved the way for other fiction sub-genres, including today’s Tagalog romance novel. Price-wise, the novel is affordable for a reader addicted to this genre. It sells for P5 to P30 depending on whether it is a sidewalk novelette or a bookstore titled fiction.

Today, it is undisputed that Tagalog romance novels have a captive audience, some say second only to tabloids. These novels come in pocket-book size and usually run up to 125 pages, and are easily snatched up by clerks, students, professionals, market vendors and housewives.

According to one writer, authors from one such publishing house catering to romance novel readers are “just as varied as their readership demographic. They have authors who are high-school students. Some are yuppies, others housewives. They even have a handful of male writers. Most of them have day jobs...” [3]

Can this medium be considered a forerunner of legitimate literature?

References:

[1] Bienvenido Lumbera, The Literary Work and Values Education: Two Texts and Contexts [Online] (Washington D.C.: CRVP, 1994, accessed 16 July 2005); available from http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-7/chapter_xv.htm.

[2] Lumbera, The Literary Work and Values Education

[3] Cheche Moral, The Rise of the Pinoy Romance Novel [Online] (Manila: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2005, accessed 16 July 2005); available from http://news.inq7.net/lifestyle/index.php?index=1&story_id=27405.

The Case of the Tagalog Romance Writer

I have a confession to make. I am embarrassed to admit that I am a writer of Tagalog Romance novels, simply referred to as pocketbooks.


Tagalog Klasiks No. 281
April 9, 1960, Ace Publications
Cover Art by Fred Carrillo
Courtesy of Gerry Alanguilan and The Philippine Comics Art Museum

Wait lang, mga co-writers! Before you raise your eyebrows at me, please hear my piece. Oo! Nahihiya akong amining ako'y manunulat dahil para sa akin ang salitang manunulat ay isang mabigat na wikain. Once you start to claim that you really are one, you have to prove it. As for me, I still feel that I'm not worthy to be called one. Sure, I had two novels approved by a publishing company but still that is not enough.

Pero hindi ko ikinakahiyang amining isa rin ako sa mga masusugid na mambabasa ng Tagalog romance novels. Back in elementary, I had an awfully large collection of Tagalog pocketbooks. Unfortunately, when I started sharing it with my high school friends, most of them never came back. I guess, it was passed on from one reader to another until I can never figure out where the book was anymore.

I was reading a blog post describing Tagalog romance novels as mere cheap reading materials one should avoid. Nakakalungkot 'no? Nakakalungkot na mas naliligayahan silang basahin ang mga Danielle Steel, Sydney Sheldon, Harry Potter o Lord of the Rings kaysa sa mga Tagalog romance na likha ng kapwa nila Pilipino. Hindi ko tahasang kinokondena ang mga nagbabasa ng mga foreign novels. Ako man ay nagbabasa rin nito. Ang kinokondena ko ay ang tahasang paghusga sa genre ng romance novel dito sa Pilipinas. Laging nababansagang cheap, baduy o nakakahiya ang mga ito.

Isa itong pang-aalipusta sa kakayahan ng mga kapwa niyo Pilipinong manunulat ng prosa. Dahil sa totoo lang hindi ganoon kadali ang gumawa ng nobela. Gaano man kasimple ang istorya nito, walang sino man ang nakakayang bumuo nito sa isang araw. Kung meron naman, saludo ako sa iyo!

Sa totoo lang, mas gusto ko pang magbasa ng pocketbook kaysa aksayahin ang daan-daang piso sa mga librong makakapal nga pero sa bandang huli makikita mo nagpapakalalim lang. Sa Tagalog romance kasi, simple lang ang buhay. Sa sandaling oras, nakapunta ka na sa daigdig na puno ng pag-asa at pag-ibig — bagay na kailangan nating lahat sa mga panahong ito. Minsan kasi may mga akdang banyaga na mapagpanggap. Dudulingin ka sa liit ng letra, mauubos ang oras mo kababasa ng pagkakapal-kapal na libro na binili mo ng mahal na sa bandang huli, gusto mong murahin ang may-akda dahil pinagod ka lang. Sa totoo lang, maraming mas magagaling na manunulat na Pilipino. Naniniwala akong tayo ay lubos na biniyayaan ng mga talentong maaaring higitan pa ang sa iba. Ang siste lang, kung minsan, kapwa Pinoy pa natin ang tahasang nang-aalipusta sa talentong ito.

Kudos! To all tagalog romance writers ... at sa mga critics ... keep it up! Payamanin niyo ang mga banyagang manunulat at patuloy na ilugmok sa putik ang mga manunulat ng ating bansa. Makatutulong yan ng husto sa pag-unlad ng bayan na ito. Mga mapagpanggap lang ang mga iyan dahil hindi ako naniniwalang wala man ni isa sa inyo ang nakaranas na magbasa ng Tagalog romance! Oh, come on!

Reprinted with permission from the author http://pillows14.blogdrive.com/

© Bernalyn L. Duma

Tagalog Romance Novels:
An Undermined Filipino Discovery

I was a Comparative Literature major back in college. I studied theories on gender relations, gay literature, popular culture, feminist writings and what have you. My classmates spouted Propp, Derrida, Lacan and Levi Strauss (Before I shifted to CL, I thought Levi Strauss was the founder of Levi's, not a theorist). Although I was not left floundering (our library closes at 12 midnight so you can guess where I stayed when I didn't have money to go out of the campus), I just couldn't get myself to the same "high" they would be when discussing the parallelisms of Deconstruction and the ideas of binary opposition. But like the makahiya, I had my natural defense mechanism. Whereas the aforementioned plant would curl up, I joked. Whenever one of my classmates asks, "Hey, do you know who Derrida worked with on this and that theory?" I'd say, "No, but do you know Martha Cecilia's latest book in her Kristine series?" Believe me when I tell you that saying that invariably saved me from betraying my semi-ignorance. Especially when I accidentally read the name Homi K. Bhaba as Bhomik Bhaba.


ESPESYAL Komiks No. 82
November 28, 1955, Ace Publications
Cover art by Francisco V. Coching
Courtesy of Gerry Alanguilan and The Philippine Comics Art Museum

We were training to become academics. We read 'serious' literature. But there are times when those tend to overwhelm even brilliant minds such as my friend Maj's and mine. Our other classmates turned to partying, others mountain climbing. Maj and I read Tagalog romance novels. Not only are they wildly entertaining, they also challenge the extent of one's imagination. Can you picture seven brothers—all unbelievably gorgeous complete with charm, physique plus wealth and breeding—falling in love with uniquely beautiful, virtuous women in succession over the next seven months or so? Did I also mention that these seven brothers have their own estates and possess ridiculously expensive luxury cars? Oh, they also own islands—each of them. Pretty unbelievable, right? The answer would be yes, and that would be the reason why they're such good reads. They're so highly entertaining—the whole storyline removes you from reality better than a George Lucas movie could. And for a Bisaya kid in Manila, it's a great language teaching tool. I can understand Tagalog all too well. I mean, I do watch Tagalog movies and television shows. It's the speaking that gets me. Anyway, reading those books aloud (with an audience so that they can correct your pretty 'baluktot' tongue) certainly helped me in the speaking department. Going back to said novels, they are undoubtedly one of the best "inventions" of the Pinoy mind. They're pretty cheap, considering all the things you get out of them: inspiration, amusement, what else… Oh, and the validation that the Filipino indeed is worth the exasperation we all feel from time to time. After all, for the price of an economy e-load you've lived somebody else's up and downs without the heartbreak (although one may be moved to tears, depending on the plot) and therapy sessions. Go ahead and educate yourself on the fine art that is the Tagalog romance novel. Give yourself a break from the telenovelas and practice literacy. Who knows? It might inspire you to write your own love story—made up or true to life; your choice.

Reprinted with permission from the author http://kristina_v.blogspot.com/

© Kristina Virtucio

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