Alvin Yapan’s ‘Worship the Body’ explores the intimate, obscured facets of queerness | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“Worship the Body,” the English translation of Alvin Yapan’s “Sambahin ang Katawan” drops this September

Even in modern society, facets of queerness are still kept secret and hidden away in the shadows. Author and filmmaker Alvin Yapan’s novel “Worship the Body” examines those facets through the lens of the social and cultural status quo—with a serving of sensuality, of course. 

Cover art for “Worship the Body” 

The upcoming book is the English translation of Yapan’s novel “Sambahin ang Katawan.” The Filipino edition was originally published in 2011 through the Ateneo Journal “Tapat: Journal ng Bagong Nobelang Filipino.” It’s slated for a September release and will be available through major bookstores. 

The book tells the story of Jaime and Jun “who first met as client and male escort, and the families they eventually raised with Ria and Maya. The coda of the novel sings of the dissonance and harmony of their relationships.” The novel explores the relationship between intimacy and secrets against the backdrop of societal expectations. 

Yapan is an author, filmmaker, and professor at the Ateneo de Manila Univeristy’s Filipino Department. His most popular work to date is the 2011 Cinemalaya movie “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa” starring Paulo Avelino. His most recent release is a research on folk aesthetics titled “Ang Bisa ng Pag-uulit sa Katutubong Panitikan.”

Filmmaker and author Alvin Yapan

Yapan worked with fellow author, poet, editor, and translator Randy Bustamante on the English translation of the novel. caught up with the author in anticipation of the book’s launch to give us some perspective on how the novel’s English translation came to be, the process, and what it was like revisiting his work over a decade later. 


How did the opportunity to translate your novel, “Sambahin ang Katawan” come about? 

I wasn’t really looking for this novel to be translated into English. It was actually Randy Bustamante who read it, loved it, and offered to translate it into English. When he approached me, he said he really wanted to get into translation after [translating] Balagtas’ “Florante at Laura” for Bookmark. 

He wanted to introduce the English-reading public to contemporary literary works written in Filipino. I was just lucky that he read my work. We both went to Ateneo de Manila University and were both members of “Heights,” an undergraduate literary organization, so I guess that helped. 

What was your goal for the book when you first wrote it? 

I wrote this novel for a grant I got from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA). It was called the NCCA Writers’ Prize. I applied for that grant back in 2005. My first novel, “Ang Sandali ng mga Mata,”  just got published then. It was awarded Best Novel in the Vernacular that year from the Manila Critics Circle. It was a historical novel and very difficult to write. 

The original cover for “Sambahin ang Katawan.” Screenshot from Alvin Yapan’s website 

So for my second novel, I wanted to write something contemporary, which I thought would be easier to write. I just read Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” I said I wanted to write something more introspective, something more philosophical, but at the same time, sexy. “Sambahin ang Katawan” was what came out.

What’s it like revisiting your novel after over a decade since its original publication?

I am super elated that it is still getting attention even after over a decade. I would catch myself now wondering how I was able to write this then. 

What’s your goal for the book’s English translation?

When Randy and I discussed this, the goal really was to expand the readership of my works. There are so many contemporary writers in the Philippines writing in the vernacular who also need an audience outside of the Philippines. 

The book has a lot of cultural themes and undertones. What was the process of working with Randy Bustamante in translating the context for the novel? Were there any difficulties or happy surprises you encountered along the way?

He translated the work first on his own. I knew Randy as a great poet himself, so I trust and respect him enough to give him space. But after he finished the first draft, that was when the discussions between us started. He would usually visit me in my office and we would get coffee somewhere in Katipunan just to discuss. 

One time, we even ended up spending an entire afternoon just discussing it in Café Adriatico in Gateway Cubao. [Our discussions] usually centered around the intertwined natures of sensuality and spirituality. Randy was a very spiritual person. He even had a masteral degree in Pastoral Ministry from Ateneo. Our question then was how to [also] translate the spiritual [when it came to] translating the sensuality in some of the scenes in the novel. 

“So whenever I write, this is what I aim for, the rhythm, it should caress the tongue.”

—Alvin Yapan

How do your experiences as an author inform your experiences as a filmmaker and vice versa?

Being a filmmaker made me acutely aware of the rhythm and sound of my writing. Film is about images and visuals. The written word is different, and should be different. Writing fiction, the novel and the short story, should be about something else. It should be about the cadence and sound of the language. So whenever I write, this is what I aim for, the rhythm, it should caress the tongue. 

Do you have a dream cast for the novel? Can you name names?

Of course, there’s Paulo Avelino. I would love to work with him again. He would be perfect for Jaime. I hear he is close friends with Joem Bascon, whom I also always work with. Joem would be perfect for Jun. For Ria, I can see Jasmine Curtis, and for Maya, there’s Mercedes Cabral. 

I love working with the same actors I already worked with, so there’s no more need to get to know each other’s rhythms. When you get to the set, your mind is already fixed on getting the job done. I am an introvert so it takes me a lot of time and energy to get to know my actors. 

Do you have a message for any queer people struggling with their identity? 

Always be good at whatever you love. Do not lose your passion. Let your passion be your identity. And the rest will follow. 


Photos courtesy of Penguin Books Southeast Asia

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