Book Review: Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar

Salamanca is a novel about love.

Basically, the plot goes like this: Gaudencio Rivera, the main character in the story, announces to his friends one day in a dinner party in Los Angeles that he wants to go back to the Philippines and return to his wife. He has abandoned her many years ago for a man (Yes, a man!). He wants to apologize to her and renew his commitment of love to her and raise a child with her. He wants to make right the great wrong he has done, and start anew.

He then relates to one of his artist-friends the story of how he first met his wife in Tagbaoran in Palawan.

He ended up in the town of Tagbaoran after fleeing Manila because of a love affair gone wrong. He wanted to become a teacher in the town. However, such a position wasn’t needed. So he ended up doing odd jobs just to survive. He wasn’t able to make use of his education and talent in writing.

His fate changed the moment he saw Jacinta Cordova, the most beautiful girl in the town, and perhaps even in the “whole of creation.” He first heard about her the day he entered Tagbaoran:

“The first two things Gaudencio Rivera was made aware of — within hours of arriving by carabao-driven cart at the secluded town of Tagbaoran on the island province of Palawan — were these: that the most beautiful woman in creation dwelt by the river, and that it was pointless to even dream of being loved by her. He was informed that her name was Jacinta Cordova, and that her beauty was of such purity and perfection that the walls of the house she lived in had turned transparent long ago, to allow both sunlight and moonlight to illuminate her incandescence.”

He saw her while he was out strolling in the woods and along a river. She was inside her transparent house while he was outside looking in, out of curiosity. He was absolutely stunned the moment he saw her face. He couldn’t speak, and all sorts of emotions welled up inside him. The next moment, he was running away from the glass house and away from Jacinta, because he was swept away by his feelings. He then spent the next days and weeks, barely sleeping, feverishly writing short stories, poems, novellas, novels and dedicating all of them to Jacinta. He would go to her house before dawn every single day and plaster his literature on her transparent walls. Jacinta, it so happened, was struck the moment she saw him, too. She, too, was inflamed with emotions for him, and each day she would wake up before sunrise and remove the stories and poems posted on her wall, for fear that her aunt, Apolinaria, might see the unbelievable sight.

Eventually, they got married, but their union only lasted for several days, and wasn’t even consummated, for he ran off with Cesar, a friend he met while earning his living in the town. They went to Manila, and Gaudencio began his life as a writer. He stunned Manila’s literary scene with his prodigious writing. He got published in all the magazines and newspapers, and won awards left and right. He became successful. But he also entered into illicit relationships with different people, men and women alike. He gave in to carnal pursuits for he felt that lust was the fuel that drove his creative output.

Meanwhile, in Tagbaoran, Jacinta nursed a broken heart. She endured years of sorrow, and occupied herself by helping the Abalos family, the family whom Cesar abandoned. She became friends with Lucio, Filomena, and Gilberta, and their other relatives. She adjusted to a new life.

After the success, Gaudencio’s life became empty. He was haunted by guilt. He realized that the only thing that can make him happy is to see Jacinta again, ask for her forgiveness, start a family with her, and grow old with her.

Hence, while in L.A., in the dinner party, he announced to his writer-friends that he will be going back to the woman he has betrayed and abandoned.

So he returned, but was rejected and hated, especially by the people who cared for Jacinta. He then proposed to her that he can free her from him on the condition that she gave him a child.

To cut the long story short, Gaudencio and Jacinta traveled back to Manila and they lived with his mother and brothers. They had children, but one died because of a freak accident.

Jacinta planned to give him only one son, as they had agreed, and return to Tagbaoran to marry a man who understood, respected, and loved her.

However, Jacinta became totally occupied with being a mother, and she realized she can’t just leave her son to him.

So they both grew old together. Gaudencio ended his illicit relationships and remained loyal to her. He devoted all his time to his wife and family, and to his writing and teaching.

Shortly before she died, she wrote him a letter, saying, “After everything, you must know that I love you.”

When she died, blinding light shone forth from her body and she was transformed into the beautiful woman she once was. And, just like before, the walls of their house in Manila became transparent because of her sheer beauty, just like ‘salamanca’ (magic).

I like how Alfar told his story. It kind of reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In fact, the story itself reminds me of Love in the Time of Cholera. The protagonist in that story is also a man possessed by feelings of love and desire, and he, like Gaudencio, slept with different people. I find that disturbing, and no less disturbing, and no doubt objectionable, is the fact that he slept with other men!

Salamanca also reminded me of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. The main character of that story was also a playboy!

I think what’s beautiful about Salamanca is that it’s honest about how lust, carnal pursuits, selfishness, and uncontrolled fame and success, etc., eventually lead to emptiness and meaninglessness. Only love and self-sacrifice give life meaning. Gaundencio realized this when he day-dreamed that his true happiness rested in being with Jacinta and have children and grandchildren with her.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Date Read: November 2010

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