• F. SIONIL JOSE’S ROSALES SAGA

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    Francisco Sionil Jose is the most widely read Filipino writer in the English language. He looms large in the global literary scene as the recipient of the 1980 Ramon Magasaysay Award for Literature, the 2001 National Artist Award for Literature, and the 2004 Pablo Neruda Centennial Award from Chile. His novels and short stories have been translated into 28 languages. Time Magazine has called his work as “rivaled only by Jose Rizal’s.”

    Considered to be his greatest work is the five-volume Rosales Saga, which is set in the Pangasinan town he was born in 1924. The Rosales Saga – Po-on, Tree, My Brother My Executioner, The Pretenders, and Mass – covers one hundred years of Philippine history, from the execution of the three priests, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora in 1872 to the declaration of Martial Law in l972.

    Here, he brings us on a rare tour of the Rosales of his childhood and his novels, and the SM mall in his hometown. This is his Rosales. This is his SM.

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    F. Sionil Jose in Solidaridad Bookshop, which he owns and manages with his wife Teresita, with Pangasinan poet Sonny Villafania and filmmaker Christopher Q. Gozum.

    “Filipinos are so talented. When I was the editor of Asia Magazine, I had the chance to work with people from many countries, and I can say that we have some of the most gifted people in the world.”

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    The five novels comprising the Rosales Saga:  Po-on, Tree, My Brother My Executioner, The Pretenders, and Mass.  Although interlinked, each novel in the saga is independent from the others and each can be read complete in itself.

    “Perhaps, I started writing the Rosales saga when I was a child, not even in grade school; my grandfather took me to the fields beyond our village and when we stopped, he pointed to the expanse of ripening grain and all that land was cleared from the forest by him and his brothers.  But that land, after all that hard work, was stolen by the Spanish mestizos.  He then said that I must go to school so I will not be oppressed the way he was.”

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    Sionil Jose has brought many people to his Rosales Saga sites- students, Filipino writers, once even a truckload of expatriates.  He once toured James Fallows, the well- known National Correspondent of The Atlantic magazine around the area.

    “Whenever I bring guests to Rosales, I show them the schoolhouse I went to, then bring them to the setting of the saga – the houses of the landlords, the municipal building.  Then I take them to Balungao, the mountains, then to Tayug, where the uprising took place in the 1930s.”

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    F. Sionil Jose at the Rosales South Central School where he attended elementary school with Librarian and Property Custodian Veronica Rivera and Campus Journalism and Science Adviser Conchita Panganiban.  He later studied at the University of Santo Tomas.

    “Then there was my teacher Miss Soledad Oriel who gave me Rizal’s novels when I was in Grade Five – ten years old – the Noli and Fili, as translated by Charles Derbyshire – they were the first novels in English which I read. As a writer and as a Filipino, Rizal has been my greatest inspiration.h

    “ After the Noli and the Fili, Miss Oriel gave me My Antonia by Willa Cather then Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes.”

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    Mt. Balungao is located five kilometers of Balungao town proper.  The Mountain is an extinct volcano in which a spring of hot water flows endlessly.  The sulfuric content of water contains medicinal properties that can cure many dermal and epidermal diseases.  The mountain’s wide swath of evergreens, aged trees, and palms on its slopes provide a refreshing view of God’s natural creation.

    “ I remember climbing Mount Balungao as a child during school vacations.  I hiked barefoot for a day passing through the fields of Cuyapo going to Balungao just bringing a bottle of water, half a panutsa, and leftover rice for the hike.

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    Scenes from the Rosales Saga:  from left, the Totonoguen Creek, where F. Sionil Jose used to swim and catch susay or freshwater fish, and which is mentioned in Po-on; the model for the house of Don Jacinto, a rich mestizo landlord – a revolutionary and friend of Mabini who helps the Ilokano settlers; the model of the house of the mestizo landlord in My Brother, My Executioner; and the original structures of the train station mentioned in Tree and The Pretenders.

    “In writing the saga, I also tried to portray the Filipino condition honestly and as best as I can so we will be able to recognize the truest image of ourselves.  We will then be able to fashion for ourselves an alternative reality, a redeeming vision emergent from our unblemished understanding of why we are.”

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    SM City Rosales, SM’s first mall in Pangasinan, has redefined shopping standards in the area.

    “I was there during the opening of SM City Rosales, and have been back there several times.  During the town fiesta last year, we had a series of cultural events, including the staging of my short story Progress at SM Cinema.  Just as it has become a center for shopping, I hope that SM will become a center for cultural and community events in Pangasinan.”

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    F. Sionil Jose at SM City Rosales – at the cinema, where a stage play based on his his short story Progress was shown; with his wife Teresita at Pancake House; and at National Bookstore.

    “My wife and I like going to SM to walk, to eat, and to visit bookstores.”