Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everything Under the Sun: Catch a Falling Star

Catch a Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo



Okay, before anything else. This author would like to clarify that we are not focused on purely Christian literature, music or whatnot. We're just trying to recommend some good pieces for your consideration.

This book I'm about to review is prime example of that.

Well, now that it's settled, I think it's about time I get started on the review!

*****

"Catch a falling star, and put it in your pocket. Never let it fade away."

And so, a lovely classic song goes. But, never let it fade away from what? Why, from jadedness, I guess.

"Catch a Falling Star" is a short story anthology by the Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Palanca winner for essay, short story, and novel. And yes, if you're a huge fan of Philippine literature like I am, you probably recognise the name as someone you very much admire. It was published in 1999 and has won several awards, including the National Book Awards.

The short stories all have a single persona --- Patricia Soler, a young, intelligent, rather geeky (according to the story "Patriciang Payatot"), witty student at an exclusive girls' school. These are chronologically arranged and seems to be told in recounts, with the persona telling each tale as though it was a flashback. This is basically the journey of Trissy (Patricia's nickname) growing up and learning a few things along in the ride --- from her fist taste of "not being popular enough" in 2nd grade, to her first crush and her first crushed heart in sixth grade, to befriending the school outcast Purita, to her first realisation of the "caste system" of society through the tale of a beautiful but blue-collar classmate. This book seems to want to take its readers on a journey --- the journey of life and maturity, a ride we're probably all too familiar with.

Firstly, I utterly adore how Dr. Hidalgo made her narrative simple yet reflective. It was kept so clean and so fun that it made you reminisce back to your elementary and high school days. In a way, you can relate to Trissy no matter where in your high school "caste system" you belonged in --- the Queen Bee or the one cast out from the hive. The way she thought and spoke probably was the same way you did as a high schooler. And yet, it still leaves some new insights into growing up. How it leaves some things up to the reader is just utterly admirable. It makes us think what we probably should have done during that crazy period of adolescence.

Her vivid imagery also must be commended. Her passion for travel essays (ergo, descriptiveness. Dr. Hidalgo is also known for writing about her various trips around the world.) is very much reflected throughout the anthology. Her words never fail to transport the reader into the sensory assault of 1970's Manila --- Trissy's world. How could you not vividly see, say, a house "the colour of cherry Lifesavers"(as described in the short story "The Afternoon of the Horses").

But perhaps, the best thing about this anthology is its insight on growing up --- that just like a falling star, it goes by fast, and you need to "catch it", learn from it. There's always a lesson in every experience, a little gem of wisdom in every breath. And yes, never forget these, never let it fade away.

Fair warning, though, for our Christian readers. There are bits of content that contradict with the Bible. The story of Ignacia, the labandera, for example, uses elements of old Filipino folklore (Mangkukulam). There are also mentions of pilgrimages to Antipolo for certain activities in the persona's convent school. However, these elements are merely story telling devices that lead us to the little nugget of a lesson each story holds.

Yes, I can see that little comet in your pocket! Good!

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