IN THE COMPANY OF GREAT NOVELISTS
I dreamt one day to be like Jose Rizal, not the insurgent but the novelist. I imagined myself as a man of letters, a person of literature with just one novel to my name. But writing is pure labor and inspiration. By labor means dismissing all pretensions at comfort, spending long hours of writing and re-writing, reading and re-reading, drafting and re-drafting, until one gets the satisfaction of having expressed what one wanted. And writing a novel is writing a series of stories, connected with one another, leading to a desired ending.
I wrote Muntinlupa, a novel, in three months, a few weeks after I retired from government service and still it is under review and subject to critique. What will be its fate depends on the readership today and in the future. I am still a shade lighter than the big league and not even a notch higher than Lola Basyang and Tiktik when it comes to weaving a story.
But I had my sights focused on great writers like Tolstoy, Cervantes, Homer, Shakespeare hoping that someday my name would be near them. Their accomplishments were enough to light my mind and make it glow in my twilight years.
Well, I could only reflect on other great writers as well.
English poet Rudyard Kipling, author of the novel The Jungle Book never enjoyed the perks of his written works since according to publishers during his time, his prose was still unheard of. Several generations later, his works would receive recognition.
Literature is indeed perplexing. The approach varies from one writer to another. The effect and public response also differ. Voltaire, a French writer, historian and philosopher wrote 2,000 books and pamphlets but finished only one novel—Candide. It has been said that Voltaire completed his first and only novel in a frenzied three days. Although he wanted to be a writer, his father wanted him to be a lawyer. He became a rebel instead. His novel was almost lost and forgotten with his firebrand crusade.
Umberto Eco was a little-known Italian scholar when he became an overnight pop icon with his first literary thriller, The Name of the Rose. It was made into a movie featuring Sean Connery. The same is true with Italian journalist Mario Fuzo who wrote The Godfather and became a celebrity after his novel was translated into film.
Paul Coehlo wrote mainly stories that combine his generation’s philosophical ambivalence. I happen to belong to the same peer group hence his works ring a familiar interest. Gladwell Malcolm’s and Mich Albom’s works likewise were terrific company to stimulate and inspire some moments of contemplation. All of them are journalists who leapt from one genre of concern to another. Finding the effort of writing a novel quite an exciting to view life and share its mysteries.
Alexander Dumas wrote the classic The Count of Monte Cristo in a manner as if it was a diary. As a matter of fact, it actually reflected the life of Dumas who lived a privileged and pampered life that he made a story out of it. Miguel de Cervantez wrote his deathless novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, using available coal inside a dungeon while he was imprisoned. Jose Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere to spite the colonizing Spaniards for making his family suffer economically during their time. Like Cervantes and Rizal, Anne Frank, then only 13 years old, wrote her thoughts by conversing with an imaginary friend “Kitty” while hiding during the Gestapo years. Her Diary caught the attention of readers worldwide and remains a simple, eloquent testament to the sustaining power of hope in the face of evil.
I may not succeed to be a great writer but in my library, my books are lined up along with their works. That to me is enough and fulfilling.