Author: Nick Joaquin
Genre: Magic Realism, Romance, Historical Fiction (Filipino lit)
My Rating: ★★★★★
“Pareng Nick” is a frequent companion of mine when I was in high school. I remembered burying my nose in a dog-eared copy of Manila, My Manila and staying in the library after classes just to search for his anthologies. It’s been ages since I last sat down and binge on some of his works, so the *roundhouse kick* of nostalgia that greeted me at the bookstore when I saw May Day Eve and Other Stories is only expected. Needless to say, I relented to the sudden irresistible urge to pick it up. I finished reading half the book in the bookstore, but I bought it (and another Joaquin anthology) anyway. I suddenly felt like my shelf would be incomplete without it.
May Day Eve is still my favorite story. Despite having read it for perhaps the hundredth time, it still doesn’t fail to make me tremble from the knee-buckling blow of regrets in life (and love) that the characters experienced. Joaquin’s magic mainly lies in the subtle unfolding of events, in a gentle whisper of epiphany that crescendoes into a howl of tragedy by the end. The story revolves around the European-educated Badoy Montiya and the feisty, liberated Agueda as they let one superstitious moment in May Day Eve be the ‘driver’ of their lives, leading into a disintegrating marriage. Agueda is my kind of female protagonist, for the most obvious of reasons: she’s the readers’ little window to Joaquin’s feministic streak that is more pronounced in his other story The Summer Solstice. Great realizations often come when it’s too late; the bitter-sweetness of this lesson lasts in the final moments of the story, wherein the characters took in that they did love each other after all, even if subconsciously.
The other stories are just as enchanting. Three Generations can be considered a little portrait of a family in a patriarchal society, focusing on the three men of each step of generation. Doña Jeronima reads like a classic Filipino legend about love, repentance, forgiveness, and piety. The Legend of the Dying Wanton teems with harrowing scenes of death as well as the beautiful images of freeing yourself…from yourself. Guardia de Honor is a mystifying tale about love, destiny, and chances. I just love how in each story, there is one character that represents rebellion in his/her own way.
Five stars for an amazing read.