Book Review: Po-on by F. Sionil Jose
Author: F. Sionil Jose
Series: Rosales Saga #1
Publication Details: 1984 by Solidaridad Publishing House
Genre: Historical fiction
A beautifully written story about freedom, courage and perseverance.
I bought Po-on in 2013 because the synopsis sounds interesting, but I never had the chance (and mood) to read it until last August. I rarely read Philippine historical fiction but I should've picked this one up sooner.
Po-on is set in 1880's Ilocos during the last years of Spanish occupation in the Philippines. It tells the story of Istak, a former sacristan and a farmer, who, together with his entire family and relatives, left their hometown to run away from the Spaniards.
Though the events following Istak's time as a sacristan, to his newfound life in Pangasinan and his last journey were quite intense, the book, in my opinion, is more character-driven. Po-on mainly focuses on the development of Istak's character as he, throughout his journey, lost and formed relationships, and changed views about freedom and bravery.
The book also tackles the seemingly lack of nationalism by some people, especially those living in remote areas. I liked that one of the affirmations of Po-on is that there really are people who may seem indifferent to the cause of the country. But it's not really the lack of nationalism, but more of self-preservation. And who could blame them really? Life, as it is, is already difficult to thread by without thinking of other things.
I also liked the presence of Mabini, Jacinto, del Pilar (real life heroes) and Aguinaldo (first president of the Philippines) which gave the book a realistic feel to it. The plight of the Filipinos also gave me feels, and it just made me love being a Filipino more. (Shouts: Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!)
Though Po-on has a bittersweet ending, I liked how Istak came to a realization to do his part in the fight for freedom, no matter how fruitless it may seem.
Overall, I really liked Po-on. Kudos to the author for writing a beautiful story that is not only rich in culture and character developments but also in affirming nationalism.
Istak's story is one of the stories of ordinary men, who chose to look, chose to listen to his mother country's cry. Istak may be indifferent at first, but in the end, he heard and he answered.
I can't wait to read the next book in the Rosales Saga which will follow a different character but, I believe, still fights the same cause.
The map included in the book. Oh how I love books w/ maps! :)
Francisco Sionil José was born in 1924 in Pangasinan province and attended the public school in his hometown. He attended the University of Santo Tomas after World War II and in 1949, started his career in writing. Since then, his fiction has been published internationally and translated into several languages including his native Ilokano. He has been involved with the international cultural organizations, notably International P.E.N., the world association of poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists whose Philippine Center he founded in 1958.