Author: Lualhati BautistaRating: ★★★★★
I last wrote a review. It's not for lack of reading, oh no. I've been reading a lot. But not everything I've read has inspired me to write a review, to praise them or to express my disappointment.
Then I picked up one of the books in my TBR, Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa?, last June 12 since it's Philippines' Independence Day, and I cannot help but write about it. I feel like I should. This is a deviation from my usual light fiction because this is actually pretty heavy stuff, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and very realistic. And this is also not a book that I would recommend to be read by everyone who can read in Filipino, especially by Filipinos... Unless you're old enough to know that life isn't black and white.
The literal translation of the book's title is Child, Child...How Were You Made? While this may extract snickers from the young, or eye-rolling from the old, the title's meaning actually goes deeper than that. It's more about how was the child made into a mature person, and what the experiences were of the child that led him to grow up into a mature person.
The book is written mainly in Filipino, with a mixture of English words and sentences. This mixture of the two languages is what we Filipinos call Taglish. Speaking in Filipino interlaced with English words is a common occurrence in the country, and if you know a Filipina or two, or have heard them speak, then you would know what I mean! I am writing my review in English because I have a lot of international readers, and the Filipinos I know who read my blog are also conversant in the language. Also because I want to invite the non-Filipinos to pick up the book and read if you can. I believe it is included in Firefly and translated into Finnish and English.
The book is centered around the life, and growth, of the main character, Lea Bustamante/de Lara/Gascon, a mother of two, to Roberto 'Ojie' de Lara and Natalia 'Maya' Gascon. The story is about her trials in being a mother of two, with her husband estranged from her; her trials having a second "husband" (live-in), with people talking about her and questioning her very young children about it; and her having to deal with her second husband's (Ding) mother. It talks about the choices she made as a mother, to make sure her children will grow up healthy and sure about themselves, that they know the truth about their parentage. Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa is also about the choices she made as a woman at a time when being a woman living with someone not her husband, and having a child with him, was still considered scandalous. It was about Lea making sure to continue to live her life for herself, to pursue her dreams and not lose who she is just because she was married, despite the various men in her life trying to control her.
This took place in the very messy Martial Law era in the Philippines, when we were under an oppressive regime and a lot of people who are outspoken against the Marcos government were found dead or declared missing.
Lea was a very outspoken and honest woman. She was honest with herself about her needs as a woman, both sexual and emotionally. She was also honest with her children that she loves both their maternal fathers, and she was honest about her marital condition. She was even requested to transfer one of her children to another school because it was considered scandalous that her children had different surnames. She stood up for herself and for her children's right to stay in that school. She was also part of the Martial Law movement, part of the human rights group that put up posters, attended symposiums, all to deplore and defend the human rights of the Filipinos in the 1980s.
Her life was pretty peaceful, until one day her estranged husband, Raffy de Lara, came back to Manila, and contacted her because he wanted to see their son, Ojie. This created mixed feelings in Lea because feelings she thought long-gone rose to the surface. This interfered with her relationship with Ding, who was insecure and afraid that she was going to cheat on him with Raffy. This also affected Ojie, who was torn between going with Raffy to the U.S. or to stay with Lea in the Philippines.
As Lea's relationship with Ding slowly deteriorated, she started to become attracted to her married co-worker Johnny, and they ended up having a one-night stand. The next day, Johnny was captured for his protests against the government and he was never seen again.
Both Raffy and Ding wanted Lea to quit working for the human rights group because they keep saying that the children need her, that she should just be a stay-at-home mom. Her children never asked that of her as she always made sure that she was there for them when they needed her and she always tried to make them happy. She even bought them a bike, which Ding rebuked her for saying that it was unsafe. Lea responded that they cannot forever prevent them from doing normal activities.
Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa was very refreshing for me, because while it involved romance and sex, the depiction of Lea was not some lovesick woman who cannot survive without a man (although she wanted one). Even with all her heartbreaks and disappointment, she stayed strong and was even optimistic about finding someone new again. Instead of getting browbeaten by the expectations of society and the controlling behavior of the men in her life, she stood up for her right as a woman, without compromising her role as a mother.
The characters in the story are very realistic. We have Raffy, a man who makes his own choices and does what he wants even if he has to leave his family; we have Ding, the more repressive kind who thinks women should just stay at home, and is a momma's boy; Ojie, a growing young man torn between wanting a father and yet knowing his mother is doing what's best for him; and Maya, a young preschool who knows more about real life than her peers do at that age. We have characters who have lost hope (such as the mother who committed suicide), men who think that just because a woman had sex with different men means she's "easy", people in position who try to do what they think is right, and in the end understands that Lea is so much more than her sexual history.
Lualhati Bautista has long been one of my favorite authors, since I read Gapo and Bulaklak sa City Jail because she always writes about the nitty-gritty of everyday life in the Philippines. Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa also aroused more curiosity in me about the Martial Law era because it happened before I was born, but my father was quite active at that time. My parents would sometimes tell us stories about it but I was never really interested, until I read in here that their fight was about the oppression and human rights violations. I am so glad that they fought alongside with majority of the Filipinos and that we are free (somewhat) from the ex-president's rule.
Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa made me smile and laugh while reading it, but in the end, I was actually sad because it dawned on me that no one writes like this anymore. Books nowadays are always light and fluffy, or too sexualized. This book also reminded me why Lualhati Bautista is one of my favorite authors.
I honestly don't think this should be forced to be read by high school students, or even in school. Maybe this could be recommended in college, but it's not a book that people who are not yet exposed to such realities would enjoy or understand. I think it needs a lot of self-honesty as well on the part of the reader, to be able to sympathize and understand Lea's choices.
I hope you enjoyed my review of Bata, Bata...Pa'no Ka Ginawa? and that you're somehow inspired to read it as well.