Gagamba: The Filipino Spiderman, with F. Sionil José

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit

No, he is not the dashing Filipino iteration of the well-loved superhero around the world. Nor is he the lean prototype of a man scaling the side of towers and buildings, saving lives, saving everything. But to be fair, there is a building in the story, “Camarin” as it is known, a story in which Gagamba (spider in Filipino) is the hero of.

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by Manny Garibay

In a killer earthquake which struck Central Luzon where the country’s capital Manila lay, the Camarin building came crashing down. Gagamba was right outside, at his usual stall selling sweepstakes tickets when he felt the turbulence. Even though the shock caused him to fall on the ground, he got up and walked away unscathed.

Inside the building were people from varying economic backgrounds and professions, all cocooned within the building’s cool air-conditioned air and plush ambiance, fit for the capital’s elite, crushed under the rubble a few minutes after one that afternoon.

The cripple, Tranquilino Penoy — otherwise know as Gagamba (spider) to the denizens of Ermita — was one of those who survived the collapse of the Camarin building on M.H. Del Pilar Street — the only building in Manila which was totally wrecked.

I’m slowly making my way through the stack of books I picked up in the Philippines in March, hoping to orient myself on Filipino literary greats. This is my first F. Sionil José book. His name leapt out of the spine, as I recognized it as one of those I need to be acquainted with. Gagamba (Amazon) after all received the 2004 Pablo Neruda Centennial Award.

So thus lived Gagamba, in awe of it all — not hurt, still breathing while the whole building and its occupants under the rubble. He attributes his luck, this bizarre incident befallen an unlucky man with his deformities, to none other than his God.

F. Sionil José goes through each victim, each buried character’s story. It is a cacophony of characters really, a cocktail of the worst kinds of people in society, mixed in with a few good ones, an amalgamation of life unfolding before the reader’s eyes.

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by Manny Garibay

There’s Fred Villa, Camarin’s new owner. He has just upgraded many of the building’s facilities, making it more suitable and appealing to his clientele. Not only was Camarin known for its excellent Spanish cuisine, but high-profile politicians, businessmen both local and foreign frequented the establishment for its main specialty: women, or as Fred called it “call girls.”

July’s Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

I can’t believe it’s the second half of the year already. Where did the first half go?! I hope you’ve been enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, or if you’ve been doing it the way I have — with your current reads.

My excitement for this month’s reading list cannot be contained, so much so that I’m on the second book already because I was that eager to get to actually reading. I’m a little behind too on my goal for this year (54 books) so I figured I could use the downtime to catch up.

The past two weeks have been really heavy on the political side, as I finished reading Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos (book review out this week) and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance. I’m still thinking about those narratives, of the lives of people like those in Bautista’s novel and OLR’s sacrifice for a cause bigger than himself. It’s easy to get lost in our routines, to see each day and each week like the others past, and then find yourself one day asking where time has gone (I mean, I just started this post with that sentiment).

Between juggling a full-time job, organizing with a grassroots women’s group in the Bay Area and reading and blogging for Libromance, some days feel like a blur.

I need constant reminders to slow down, to make my days wider and freer, to be more spontaneous. I have yet to find that balance, but these past few days have been healing. Between all the things I do, keeping up with my books & looks on the daily and carving out moments for loved ones, I have to remind myself to breathe. To take it all in, with grace and even more joy. That in spite of what’s happening around me, in spite of internal turmoils I may face, there’s alwasy a spark of joy that can be ignited.


This month’s first book is Frida Kahlo: I Paint My Reality which I finished in a day (yesterday). I still have a hangover from my trip to Mexico City, specially Coyoacan, where Frida grew up and spent most of her time. I have yet to write about my trip for the blog but it’s definitely in the works!

Right after, I started Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The only reason why I didn’t start reading Roy’s latest novel is that it still hasn’t arrived and the moment it did, I was ready. After being blown away by The God of Small Things, I tried to greet Roy’s other books with the same vigor. But it wasn’t the same. As I write this, I’ve read about 50 pages of the new novel and so far, it has been worth the wait.

Other titles that I’ll be delving into this month include Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. I’m a fan of the Berkeley native, ever since he came out with books like Food Rules and In Defense of Food. He made me realize how complicated our food has become, and that a return to simplicity (to what our grandmothers actually recognize as food) is warranted.

A friend recommended Magda Szabo’s The Door awhile ago so I thought it’s high time I read it. I really don’t know much about the book but hey, it has a 4.06 rating on Goodreads.

And last but definitely not the least is F. Sionil Jose’s Gagamba. The title is the Filipino word for spider, and it’s a little embarrassing that I still haven’t read any of his work. This will be my first book from the author, a title I picked up when I was in the Philippines in March.

What are you reading this month? Let me know by leaving a comment below. As always, happy reading!