My Brother, My Executioner (Rosales Saga #3) by F. Sionil Jose: Book Review

Title: My Brother, My Executioner
Author: F. Sionil Jose
Series: Rosales Saga #3
Publication Details: 2014 by Solidaridad Publishing House (first published 1973)


The conflict in this novel about the Hukbalahap uprising in the fifties is not just the enmity in the guerrilla war. It is the deeper symbolic conflict between two brothers and their vastly different and estranged worlds. Here, too, is the trauma of traditional society undergoing change, and the old refusing to let go.

Don Vicente, the landlord who dominates TREE without really appearing in it, now appears in this novel as the central figure, the hierarch who returns to his town to die. Luis is his illegitimate son on whom he pins his last hopes for an heir. Victor is Luis' half-brother- the rebel, unflinching but doomed.

My Brother, My Executioner is the third in the series of Rosales novels and is considered the most dramatic.

Plot and Characters
The Rosales Saga continues with My Brother, My Executioner. In this third book, we follow the story of two brothers during the Hukbalahap years, their personal conflicts, and the ever-present struggles of the society.

Like the other books in the series, My Brother, My Executioner is character-driven and has a lot of social and political commentaries. The book was actually banned during the Martial Law years because of the "rebellious" events and ideals in the book.

From the title, one might deduce that the main theme is sibling rivalry. But aside from that, there are bigger elements throughout the book that are worthy of discussions. I will only touch a few in this review.

One distinct plot element is the personal struggle of the main character, Luis Asperri. He is the illegitimate son of Don Vicente, a haciendero in Pangasinan whose character first appeared in the second book, Tree.

Luis has been trying to block out his past, but finds himself in constant struggle with it. He cannot reconcile his past, present and future; his reality and ideals; the comforts of his life and what his morals dictate him. These plague not only his life, but also affect the people closest to him. These struggles are central in the book and set the mood and path of the story.

Connected to Luis' past (and present) is Victor, his half-brother. They used to be closed and do things together, but life, society and the changes separated them.

During the years, growing up poor and oppressed, Victor developed hate for the tyrants who lord over them, hate for the injustice, hate for the oppression. But he is so focused in the cause that he is willing to overlook the collateral damage. He is dead set in righting the wrongs even if it will cause him his life and his family.

While I don't agree in his ways and the violence, I sympathize with their cries. However, I agree with Luis' ways that everything has to be systemic otherwise things will end up chaotic again, and no better than the previous situation.

As I have mentioned, there are many political and social commentaries throughout the book. The ever-present clashes of the social classes (that, until now, is still happening in the country), the love for riches of the rich, the oppression of the poor, the injustices and tyranny by the those in power and position, the ignorance of the masses to the truth, the indifference to change and freedom- these are all in the book.

My Brother, My Executioner also contains affirmations about wealth and other earthly things- that they cannot bring you happiness and contentment. It also affirms the importance of family, and the importance of forming bonds with other people- relationships.

There are still more things to discuss including two of the women in Luis' life- Trining and Ester, their differences, their admirable characteristics and the not so admirable ones. We have the  other secondary characters whose roles and actions speak a lot about humanity and society. And lastly, the book also made me think of old Manila, where pollution (of all kinds) wasn't that rampant yet.

As for the ending, a lot of plot elements/events are left without resolution. It has an open ending. But I honestly don't mind because it makes the story more realistic and thought-provoking.

My Reading Experience
Since I went in blind when I started reading this, I was a bit confused about the plot. Unlike the second book, Tree, I was not smitten immediately so it took me a while to like this book. But as the story progresses and as the commentaries start pouring in, I began to have a good reading experience.

When I finished the book, I thought it was just a so-so read. But as I write this review and think of the important events in the book, I realized how rich it is and how powerful its message is.

-o-

Truly, My Brother, My Executioner is not only a story of one man's struggle against himself, his brother and against those around him. It is also our story- the story of every man who struggled, and is still struggling.

My Brother, My Executioner is a moving and thought-provoking story. I definitely recommend! And I cannot wait to continue with the Rosales Saga.


Reviews of the other books in the series:

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