Book review: Soledad’s Sister, Jose Dalisay

Just like Dekada ’70, this wasn’t on the list of books I plan to read this quarter, but it made it there somehow. But it’s on my reading list nonetheless, a book that fits one of the items in the 2020 reading challenge I set for myself. This is one of the books in my NBS haul I did the first day of this month, and now I’m finally done reading it.

rpt

What is it about

The story revolves around Aurora Cabahug, a 22-year-old cabaret singer; Walter Zamora, a police officer; and a casket that contains the remains of Aurora’s sister Soledad, an overseas Filipino worker who died in Jeddah. Nobody knows if she died a natural death or if she was killed, but certainly it is one of the sad but true stories of OFWs who only wanted a better life for the families they chose to leave behind.

What I think about it

I had a hard time reading it at first – I couldn’t understand why every character has to be introduced like they have major roles in the story. Maybe it was one of the hidden messages of the book, that no matter how insignificant people think of you, you matter. That you have your own personal history that explains why you are what you are today. That in the end, your insignificance actually played a big part in the bigger picture. Just like the telegram that bears an important information that almost went unnoticed by the chief of police because he was busy beating a colleague over a game of chess during work hours. Or the it’s-Friday-I-don’t-feel-like-working-lemme-outta-here feeling of the security guard who refused to do the very thing he was being paid to do for a family of seven who took a 6-hour ride to claim the remains of their kinfolk who was executed in Jeddah. Or the corpse of a woman washed up in the harbour, and no one cared what happened to her because she clearly was not from there and certainly not in the royal family. It’s maddening, how these people’s selfishness seemed so simple yet it could cause lasting damages to those around them.

Soledad’s Sister is the only book I’ve read about OFWs despite the many books in my shelf, a mere evidence that I haven’t been reading significant Filipino books. Thus, I could’t say for sure that this is the most accurate life depiction of OFWs in books, as I’ve seen more movies that did better than this. This focused more on the back stories of the characters, of why Walter Zamora is alone and was sent to Paez in line of duty, of why Aurora ended up as a cabaret singer despite her sister being abroad and sending her money, and the alleged reason why Soledad decided to go abroad despite being the most quiet kid in the family, and of how and why Bagumbayani subdivision came to business.

I appreciate the fact that the author chose to write the book in omniscient third person POV, as there were lots of questions in my head that couldn’t be answered by the characters in action. What really happened to Soledad in Jeddah? Why couldn’t she go back to Hong Kong? Why couldn’t she use her own passport to Jeddah? These things and more, which Walter and Aurora couldn’t have any idea about were explained in Soleded’s point of view. However, no matter how ingenious this approach is, there were still questions like, what happened to the family that drove all the way from Lingayen? Were they able to claim the remains of their dead? Was it really Soledad that’s in the casket? Maybe it was Filemon? Or maybe it was someone else all together because look, there were two women who went missing and only one body with an unrecognizable face was recovered. Soledad’s history in Hong Kong clearly spoke of what she’s capable of, so who’s to say that she might still be alive somewhere in the Arabian deserts?

In conclusion

This should also be a required reading in school if it isn’t already. There are a number of literary elements in this book that are too exciting to explore and discuss in class.

Where to get the book

I got it from National Book Store. I suppose you can also order directly from the publisher, Anvil.

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