Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: Ongpin Stories by R. Kwan Laurel

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite sized book reviews.

Ongpin Stories is a collection of eight stories that deal with the Filipino-Chinese condition from the perspective of a young boy. What I find peculiar about this book is that it’s easily a short novel because while the short stories stand well on its own, taken together, they all form one huge coming-of-age narrative that’s reminiscent of Ray Bradbury if his stories were set in Manila's Chinatown. Laurel’s language is short, concise, and neat that makes it quite readable. While Filipino-Chinese stories aren’t anything new, Laurel’s style in my opinion distinguishes himself from local fiction giant Charlson Ong who also tackles the same subject matter. Whereas the latter sprinkles his stories with lots of detail and Chinese terms, the former is different because of his minimalist text and plain use of the English language. (That’s not to say one is better than the other, simply that it’s a different take on an established field of Philippine literature.) In Ongpin Stories, Laurel has crafted a small community of characters that not only makes constant reappearances but eventually evolve. As a Filipino-Chinese reader, many topics brought up hits too close to home and I must wonder where the lines of autobiography and fiction are drawn. Overall this is a solid collection and there is nothing really faulty when it comes to the writing. My only complaint is that this was too short a collection and I can envision it being a full-fledge novel if Laurel can write additional stories to supplement the one he has already presented here.


Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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