by Michael Jude Tumamac
Over the past years, there has been a growth in the number of publications for Filipino young adults. One notable book is Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera-Falgui, an award-winning fictionist and author of books for children and adults, and a member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (Kuting). She graduated from University of the Philippines with a bachelor’s degree in Art Studies and is currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing.
Published in ebook version by Flipside Publishing Services, Inc. (2012), Woman in a Frame is a journey of Sining Librado, a daughter of an artist, to her country’s colonial past to uncover the story behind a portrait – the story of Marcela Simbulan. The book contributes to the literature that gives voice to women by weaving together the stories of two female painters (Sining and Marcela) from different eras. The story of Agueda Kahabagan, a revolutionary, was also included to lend readers a glimpse of women’s active role during the 1896 Revolution. It is commendable how this silent space in history is vividly recreated in the novel. It tries to break the usual thinking that Philippine life during this period revolved around Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, and other men who fought against the Spaniards.
The book smoothly inserted major historical events and issues in the narrative – e.g., Filipinos secretly forming alliances to fight against the Spaniards – but did not dwell too much on them. The retelling of this period also goes beyond that narrow scope and allows young adult readers a first-hand view of life at the turn of the century in Laguna and Manila. For example, a brief description about the dynamics of marriage and relationships between different social classes during this period provides insight. Besides history, the book showcases the art of painting, especially the different painting styles and techniques mentioned through the novel’s characters. Letras y figuras, in particular, was highlighted. It is an art form worth reviving.
The writing is admirable for parenthesizing Marcela’s story in 1896 with Sining’s story in 2000. Starting and closing a novel with a contemporary narrative hooks the readers, and paves the way toward making sense of the old story. (It’s literary magic at work!) Readers will realize the connections and continuity of the two stories only after reaching the closing parenthetic narrative. Figuratively, the present-past-present flow of the novel is aptly described by the cover painting: “an old-fashioned girl in a modern frame” (as the book’s blurb describes).
Though packed with many topics (role of women, historical events, and painting) the novel never strays from being a young adult narrative. The teenage characters whether in 1896 or 2000 have authentic teen voices and actions. Particularly, a teen’s first encounter with falling in love is touched on, which may resonate with teen readers concerned about finding the right person to be with in life.
Surely, Filipino young adult readers will gain a lot of insights from reading this beautifully written book.
Michael Jude Tumamac is a member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting and Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo. Visit his blog xizuqsnook.blog.com or like his Facebook page Xi Zuq’s Nook to read more reviews of books for children and young adults.