Dan Brown’s latest novel “Inferno” may have caused a ruckus since the book describes Manila as the “gates of hell.” But this is not the first foreign novel that has talked about Manila, with some name-calling and disparaging comments.
The squalor and glamour of Manila, and the exoticism of the Philippines have captivated many Filipino and foreign authors, driving them to write literary works set in the dog-eat-dog city and its environs.
In time for the 34th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), Sept. 11-15 at the SMX Convention Center, here are some of the famous literary works that talk about Manila, from its urban legends down to the iconic representations of a country united by People Power.
“Manila Noir,” edited by Jessica Hagedorn—Jessica Hagedorn first rose to international fame for “Dogeaters,” a novel set in 1950s Manila. Going back to her roots, she has come up with the landmark “Manila Noir,” an anthology of 14 stories from 14 different authors tackling the underbelly of Manila from the mythological creature known as the aswang, to shabu and drug use, premeditated crimes, and the social divide between the poor and the bourgeois.
The book is part of the Akashic Noir series, an acclaimed series of original noir anthologies set in different cities all over the world. Contributing stories to the collection are Lourd de Veyra, F.H. Batacan, Angelo Lacuesta, José Dalisay, R. Zamora Linmark, Lysley Tenorio, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Budjette Tan, Kajo Baldisimo, Marianne Villanueva, and many more.
“Moondogs” by Alexander Yates—In this 2011 novel, Benicio searches for his father, an American businessman, who disappeared while in Manila. Along the way he uncovers secrets he never knew about his father.
The book gives us a glimpse of the Filipino and expat cultures with a dash of magic realism, complete with wizard-like policemen and a villainous rooster.
“Trash” by Andy Mulligan—While its setting is not explicitly stated, this 2010 Young Adult novel was inspired by the author’s visits to a Manila dumpsite. “Trash” features three dumpsite boys who find a treasure in mountains of steaming rubbish.
It is a gripping story that exposes the reader to brutal realities of life in the lowest rungs of society: abject poverty, exploitation, and the grave effects of festering corruption.
“The Tesseract” by Alex Garland—Told in a nonlinear storyline, this 1998 novel depicts the lives of Manila gangsters, mothers and street children, whose fates randomly intersect. “Tesseract” refers to a four-dimension cube, a metaphor for the characters’ limitations in understanding the events that affect their lives.
“Baby Jesus Pawn Shop” by Lucia Orth—Set in Manila in the last years of the Marcos regime, the novel depicts the perspective of the average Filipino during that dark period. Both entertaining and controversial, the 2009 novel maps out the poverty, the crime syndicates and the corruption that rule Manila.
MIBF, organized by Primetrade Asia, is slated on Sept. 11-15 at the SMX Convention Center, Seashell Drive, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City.