I enjoyed this book. The author, Mark Bulahao, is an artist and has the ability to see the small details in every scene that I would miss. In the story of Paco he impresses me with the importance of these little things. He weaves a tale for me in order that I might pay attention to a less dominant voice in a culture that itself is less dominant in our western world.
Paco is nineteen and yearns to be free. He is ‘an awkward fellow’ physically, the product of his father’s waywardness, ‘a coward who impregnated and left his own cousin.’ He has lived all his life in Imagon, a town in the Philippines, with his mother and his drunken step-father, a gambler who rules the house and Paco’s life, reducing him to the condition of a slave. 'Sweeping, cleaning, washing and cooking were his forte.' When the opportunity presents itself, Paco escapes in search of a Utopia he had heard about some years ago. Thus begins a personal journey in which are revealed as many wonderful discoveries about himself as devastating realities.
The novel is the story of Paco’s learning experience. There is not the build-up of tension from a fast-paced plot, though it accelerates towards the end. Paco is a gentle fellow and philosophical by nature. He takes time to consider the ups and downs that life throws at him: battling temptation, learning, falling, rising, making excuses, promising to do better. In the meantime, Bulahao paints a picture of rural life in the contemporary Philippines that is both good and bad, enriching and demeaning, a sanctuary and a source of terror. Bulahao, and thus Paco, are not judgemental.
There are frequent philosophical overtones about life, solitude, what one has relinquished and what one can be reduced to, all seen through the eyes of a young man who is alone. Sometimes I struggled with this philosophy because it became towards the end very richly written, like a fantasy in its own right. I felt its language could have been simplified for me, yet other readers would relish these fantastical elements. It illustrates the challenges of expressing ideas in ways that an audience can most easily understand. Perhaps the sentences could be kept shorter. Perhaps the text could have been edited for repetition of ideas. This poses the question of which is more important, taking pleasure in the writing or understanding it? (I don’t have an answer to this.)
Island Boy is a unique novel from an original writer who has had the courage to create a protagonist that most of the world would ignore to their loss.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: mark-bulahao fiction contemporary magical-realism