Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chrysanthemum by Norbert L. Mercado

Self-publishing is starting to raise hefty competition to published books, and for good reason. Not everyone wants to read Umberto Eco, although they will pretend to love him and that they already have. Mitch Albom (who is also published, but whose writing style is much simpler and easier to read) would be a more popular choice, and while Eco has one bestseller, Albom has five.

Today, people who wouldn’t ordinarily get past the vast competition of getting a publishing firm are self-publishing, and people who ordinarily don’t read books are reading these self-published books, because oftentimes the writers start out by giving away free copies. That’s why my maid reads voraciously online every afternoon by downloading free books on her android. They’re not only free, but she finds books that she relates to easily.

For too long Filipinos were not considered book readers; but I wonder what would be the findings of a new survey today. Chrysanthemum, a self-published book with a story well told, authored by Norbert L. Mercado, tells a part of Philippine history through fiction that has long been ignored and might have been otherwise lost.

The author, Norbert Mercado, also sings quite well.
The plot of Chrysanthemum is simple. Chrysanthemum Aspiras is a singer at a posh hotel in Hongkong. Peter Yu, the son of the hotel’s owner falls in love with her and wants to marry her. But Chrysanthemum loves her childhood friend Michael, who has been putting off marriage because he’s a lieutenant in the military and he doesn’t want to burden her with being a military man’s wife. More so if he were wounded severely in battle and she would have to care for him for the rest of her life.

But when Michael is told by a mutual friend that the son of a rich Taipan has offered marriage to Chrysanthemum, he throws his hat in the ring and offers marriage too. Both men are equally good people in their own ways, in their extremely different worlds. One man, self-made and  middle class, has always walked a narrow line. The other has lived with indulgence and women but is ready to change his life.

Even more interesting was the discovery of worlds that I’d heard of, but through this novel, got a more intimate look into. For example, the park in Hongkong that is a popular meeting place for Filipina OFWs comes to life in the novel; and the world of OFWs is gracefully presented. You also experience the feeling of being an observer while Michael leads a platoon into NPA territory with the intention of serving as “bait” to bring the NPA guerillas out, and to hold them down until reinforcements arrive.

Norbert Mercado with friends, film director Sockie Fernandez and Ed and Mona Gonzalez.
I’m not an English snob. Otherwise, I would deserve the worst grade from people who are fluent in other languages. Chrysanthemum is written in Taglish – yet another indication of the reality of the time period that the book was written for. This was a time when Filipinos were transitioning from English as the medium of instruction to Filipino. The result was a generation of people who were poor in both English and Tagalog. As a result, Taglish evolved.

I’m happy to see Taglish in this novel and how it contributes to the accuracy of its time. Think of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth and how she “created” Chinese English to further convey her story effectively. The Chinese don’t speak English in the way that Buck depicts it in her book, nor would it be a literal translation of how Chinese would say something in their own language. Instead, Buck creates this ”Chinese English” to capture the sing-song quality of Chinese.

Taglish on the other hand is a reality in Philippine linguistic history. It shouldn’t be buried under the ground and kept hidden for shame of “ignorance”. Instead, it should be a linguistic marker, an indicator of the Philippines’ more recent history.

Ed Gonzalez in foreground, uses his good ear to listen to Norbert Mercado sing.
One other surprise – this is a Christian book, but it is so discreet that when Chrys prays to receive Jesus it is just a natural unfolding of the story. It becomes credible because in the mind of the author, there really are people like his own characters, people who wouldn’t sell their soul for money, who can’t be corrupted, and who are generally good in nature. Christian literature should be more like this. The lesson is well taught here. Something doesn’t have to be shoved in your face to qualify as being Christian literature.

Mercado wrote a book that is very true to himself. Inner truth will, and should, undoubtedly come to the fore in what you write. For as you think, so you speak, and scientists have marked writing style to be as accurate a measurement of identity as a thumb print. If you want to read a book that you can’t put down, read Chrysanthemum. You can get a copy here.

Below are more books by Norbert Mercado: