Tree (Rosales Saga #2) by F. Sionil Jose: Book Review

Title: Tree
Author: F. Sionil Jose
Series: Rosales Saga #2
Publication details: 2011 by Solidaridad Publishing House (first published 1978)

TREE is a story of a boy growing up in a small Ilokano town, surrounded by friends below his social class, by relatives and doting servants who have served his family all their lives. It is also a story of oppression and compassion. TREE belongs to Francisco Sionil Jose's largest body of work known as the Rosales novels. Like much of his fiction, it depicts man's continuing and often futile search for justice and moral order (back cover).

A coming-of-age story of a boy as he witnesses life and the unfairness of it all.

Tree follows a man brought back to his childhood days as he visited again his hometown. The narrator tells of his story growing-up in a small town, the people in his life- the ones he met, the ones he lost, their stories and the story of how money and power played a big role in their lives.

Friendship, family relationship, discrimination, justice. These are the major themes surrounding F. Sionil Jose's second book in the Rosales saga. Truly a compelling and an eye-opening read.

Chapter 1 instantly drew me in. Here's the first paragraph of Chapter 1:

"THIS IS a journey to the past---a hazardous trek through byways dim and forgotten--forgotten because that is how I choose to regard many things about this past. In moments of great lucidity, I see again people who--though they may no longer be around--are ever present still; I can almost hear their voices and reach out to touch them--my friends, cousins, uncles and aunts and, most of all, Father."

When I started reading, I had no idea what the book is about, so I was really intrigued by the melancholic tone. I wanted to know what happened. And that, the narrator gave.

I was introduced to what his life's like. Being son of rich man, he is well cared for. The contrast of his life to those around him is glaring and saddening. At a young age, the narrator did not know or had little idea of the oppression, of the difficulties. Although time brought him the lessons.

Social oppression is not an unusual subject. I've read quite a few stories about it but Tree gave a refreshing point of view, through another lens- that of a child from a different social class.

Being set in the Philippines during the last days of American occupation, and into the invasion of the Japanese, it's heartbreaking to read that the problems of the past still hold true in the present. That the fight of my countrymen was and is still true even to this day. Those with money hold the power. Those without cling to whatever life throws at them.

Aside from the oppression and discrimination, family and friendship are also portrayed in the book. In general, Filipino culture is family-centered. I think Tree was able to show that bond between family, no matter how distant a relative can be, regardless if they are related by blood or not.

And throughout the narrator's childhood days until the day he visited again is the balete tree that stood strong, oblivious to its surroundings. A metaphor about life. Here's the last paragraph from the book:

"Who then lives? Who then triumphs when all others have succumbed? The balete tree--it is there for always, tall and leafy and majestic. In the beginning, it sprang from the earth as vines coiled around a sapling. The vines strangled the young tree they had embraced. They multiplied, fattened and grew, become the sturdy trunk, the branches spread out to catch the sun. And beneath this tree, nothing grows!"

Young love, politics, rebellion, religion- these are the other plot elements in the book. And though minor, they were weaved together creating a beautiful and poignant story.

Moving and thought-provoking, Tree is definitely a good read. I can't wait to read the third book in the Rosales saga, My Brother, My Executioner! 

NOTE: Here's my review of the first book, Po-on.

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.