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What the Critics Say
Book Review
by Father Miguel A. Bernad, SJ
at Philippine Star, Jan. 23, 2006

A Powerful Novel

The characters of Rizal’s Noli me tangere have come to life again in a novel recently published in the United States and reprinted in Manila, written by Roger Olivares. The original title was Hero. The reprint is entitled Noli Me Tangere 2: A Modern Sequel to Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s Novel. In this reincarnation Crisostomo Ibarra (“Cris”) returns to the Philippines after his studies abroad and finds the country in a terrible mess. As in the earlier novel, Cris tries to do something about it and dies in the attempt.

Maria Clara in this new novel is a physician working among the people living in wretched conditions at the garbage dump in Payatas, and depending for a living on what they can salvage from the garbage. Unlike Rizal’s Maria Clara who was the adopted daughter of a wealthy Chinaman, the modern one was born to a squatter family living near the railroad tracks. Unable to support his family, her father in desperation tries to kill them, and eventually seeks employment abroad. So does the mother. The father acquires a new family, the mother meets with tragedy, the children left behind receive dollars from abroad but (except Maria Clara) fall into moral degradation.

The modern Elias is an adviser to the President. Unable to stand the corruption and ineptness around him he quits his job and joins the underground.

The novel gives a vivid picture of the corruption in the government, the wretchedness of the life of the poor, the frivolity of the wealthy, including the graduates of good Catholic schools who should know better.

Roger Olivares writes with anger about the degradation of the Filipino people who must export one million persons every year, because the leaders have neglected to develop the agricultural and the industrial resources which might have provided them with decent jobs at home. A total of eight million Filipinos are now abroad, most of them in menial jobs. On his return trip to the Philippines Cris stops over at Hong Kong and sees a shocking sight. In an open space among the skyscrapers, “hundreds of men and women squatted side by side, like modern slaves for sale without the chains.” It is the Filipino domestic servants enjoying their day off, not spending their money on themselves in order to send it to their families back home. But the worst thing is not what happens to them abroad, but what happens to their families left behind who “get dollars but not love”. Growing up without their parents they are exposed to moral dangers.

Government officials gloat over the number of Overseas Workers (OFW) and the amount of dollars coming in from them – not realizing that this situation is an indictment of their neglect: they should have been doing something to improve the economy so that people need not seek a better life abroad.

There is a chapter in which Cris visits his old teacher at his old school and he blames the school for not doing enough to instill a social conscience among its graduates. “You taught us to read the classics, but not to read the faces of the poor.”

It all seems hopeless, but the modern Crisostomo Ibarra and the modern Maria Clara have the optimistic vision that Father Florentino has in Rizal’s El Filibusterismo.

Literary critics will probably condemn this novel as they condemned Rizal’s. But the ordinary reader will have a different judgment. The blurb quotes former Senator Jovito Salonga: “Is the Philippines worth dying for? Philippines hopeless? Read this novel. Extremely fascinating, relevant and thought-provoking, a worthy sequel to (Rizal’s) Noli, written with admirable skill.” Dr. Josefina Constantino (now a Carmelite nun) calls it “a truly powerful book.” The book is all that. We might add: It is an authentic picture of the miserable state the Philippines is in today, but also offers hope that the Filipinos can redeem themselves.

Roger Olivares dedicates this book “to the eight million Filipino overseas workers (OFW) scattered around the world away from their families, and sadly increasing by three thousand every day. -- You are heroes to your families, but victims of greed, corruption and incompetence. – We will be waiting for you with yellow ribbons, when the day comes that we can stand tall again among nations. – And that day will come, we can promise you.”

Senator Jovito Salonga

Extremely fascinating, relevant, and thought provoking, this novel is a worthy sequel to the first “Noli.”

Written with admirable skill, Roger Olivares has seen much and felt the tragedy of the human predicament even more—the pathetic conditions of the OFW’s in the Middle East, in Europe, and Asia; the shameful, godforsaken misery of those who live and work and die in Payatas; the horrible poverty of squatters along the railroad tracks; the despicable corruption in government, the insatiable greed and hypocrisy of the Filipino elite, and the redeeming patriotism of a limited few – all these show that Philippine society has not really changed much since the days of Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.

The questions Ninoy Aquino raised must be answered again: Is the Filipino worth dying for? Is the Philippines hopeless. Read this novel.

Senator Joker Arroyo

Roger P. Olivares ingeniously succeeds in provoking us to realize that nothing truly changes in the lives of our society’s underclass, whether under foreign rule or Filipino. You are up if you are up. You are down if you are down. Rizal’s angst in his novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” resonates in Olivares’ “Noli” a century hence.

This is an excellent companion piece of the Rizal’s original, a must and easy read for all.”

Father James B. Reuter, SJ

Like Jose Rizal, Roger Olivares is a Filipino who has lived for some time outside of his own country. He has not grown numb with the long, slow, deadening effect of prolonged poverty. He has not been blinded by the greed and lust for power which has corrupted so many of our local Filipino leaders.

Like Rizal, he now looks upon his people with anguish, aghast at their suffering, their hardships, their misery. He is writing about his own land, his own people, whom he loves. For those who do not know the orient, it is a blessing to see the Philippines, through the eyes of a Filipino. And for the Filipinos, rich and poor, it is a blessing to see themselves through the mind and heart of a passionate, idealistic, Filipino dreamer.

In this book,Roger Olivares is Don Quijote, drawing his sword against the windmill. He is the Man of La Mancha, trying to bring the fallen woman back to the dignity and beauty and joy of living. Like Jose Rizal, he is trying to transform his own nation, to bring it back to what it really should be – one of the loveliest and happiest lands in all this world.

Senator Sonny Alvarez

Roger P. Olivares tries to do with today’s readers what our national hero, Jose P. Rizal, tried to do with his generation. It is a patriot's initiative through the pen. Olivares shocks us into recognizing the cancers that now plague our modern society -- corruption, drugs, prostitution, violence against women, lack of love of the country, among others.

Taking off from some of Rizal's fictional characters, Olivares paints a portrait--as Rizal did--of real people doing real things. Although he follows Rizal's style of offering ideas through the speeches of characters, Olivares uses a modern genre -- the cops and robbers story. The cops and the robbers, however, belong to the same family -- and that is how the tragic plot thickens.

Today's readers will undoubtedly be as inspired as those in Rizal's time to transform our beloved nation into a fair and modern society."

Dr. Josefina D. Constantino, PhD

A truly powerful book, grippingly realistic. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus stir into love, action, and conversion all who may read your book. You have glorified Him who is Truth and Compassion.

Father Miguel Bernad, SJ

A very interesting experiment and in view of the national situation a timely one. A good modern sequel to Noli Me Tangere, written from perspective similar to Rizal’s own.

A Carmelite Sister

The characters in Roger Olivares’ book reflect the different faces of our people. Anyone reading this book can find himself or herself reflected and portrayed. This is where the power of this book lies: that it mirrors to each Filipino himself or herself … and makes him think. What am I doing to change these ills? There lies the hope of our country.

There is that level of writing that I attribute to the quality of the writer’s heart. Your novel is heart, Roger. And that, for me, makes the difference between a book that I read and will eventually forget, and a book that I read and will eventually appropriate as a shaper of my heart.

Rudy Ordonez, Professor, Los Angeles

As an Ateneo alumnus, I concur with Roger that Ateneo (disguised as Aguila University in this book) has to work harder in developing in its alumni compassion for their fellowmen especially the poor. This is probably the reason why many of it graduates are fairly passive and inconsequential in the noble task of nation building. To be inconsequential is a bitter pill to take for an Atenean, who is supposed to be trained to lead.

Cresenciano Bautista, Professor/Historian

Congratulations for a magnum opus, a masterpiece depicting the reality of life in the country. As Cicero said in his opening defense against Catalina, “Quosque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra.” (How long would you endure our patience, Catalina.) Similarly, how long shall we endure our patience to see real reforms in the country?

Fernando Umali, Alumnus of De La Salle University

This book highlights the inability of the elite educational institutions to turn out enough servant leaders with sense of social responsibility. With his memorable characterization and an extraordinary eye for details, Roger Olivares captures the mood of the entire society today.
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