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A micro review, AND a translation (not minding syllables)

By JUANIYO ARCELLANA, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 01, 2024 5:00 am

A literature of the opaque, or one that strives constantly for some form of clarity, has its uses.

There are times when a word or image is left dangling as if from a waking dream, and the best the writer can do is build a short narrative around it.

A hundred words and images spring to life in Missed Connections: Microfiction from Asia (Marshall Cavendish, 2023) edited by Felix Cheong and Noelle Q. de Jesus, and while product is largely uneven, it bodes well for further Philippine-Singapore partnerships in the arts, and finally resolves Filipinos’ first world envy and Singaporeans’ hankering for a more or less liberal democracy.

Things don’t come easy, and the more successful fictions here are a snapshot of what could have been or where-do-we-go-from-here?, while the drawings and illustrations are spot narratives in themselves, giving a welcome graphic touch to a seemingly purely literary undertaking.

Words and drawings feed on one another, and therein lies the strength of this book, familiar names aside—Butch Dalisay, Sarge Lacuesta, Therese Garceau, Claire Miranda, Dengcoy Miel, Ian Casocot.

The Singapore side is a delightful revelation, and brings to bear the multiculturalism of that island state, a few of them possibly honed by the mother lode of a news publication, Straits Times.

One is even tempted to say the best thing about Missed Connections is the chance to smell the freshly cut pages while alternately savoring the content, a rare comfort these days when readers are hypnotized by LED screens and cursors.

This relatively new genre is making inroads among the youth with growing attention deficit disorders, but there’s definitely more to the micro stories than mere word count—like the micro mini, less is more.

In another light, de Jesus has translated Ricky Lee’s novel Para kay B., and if poetry is what is lost in translation, fiction could be what’s found in the translated work.

For B. (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2023) came out earlier this year, with the added advantage that de Jesus, herself a writer, worked alongside Lee to muster a translation faithful to the spirit and intent of the original—slang, Taglish, gayspeak and all.

Does she nail it? Hard to tell if one hasn’t read Para kay B., but far as we can tell the electric melodrama hysterics are intact, full speed ahead; but a reader can’t help feeling some secret flavor or ingredient is missing.

There’s the rub, of course, and explains why Lee had earlier expressed his desire to be read by everyone, from jeepney riders to janitors, market vendors to stenographers, the whole hoi polloi of black oxen treading the world, to paraphrase Yeats.

No need to count words or syllables in the next project, what’s lost is lost but good translations are found gems.

Even the greenhorn reader on the other side of the world without a clue about showbiz Pilipinas will find something here to revel in, and that is Lee’s pull-out-all-the-stops storytelling which de Jesus approximates in good measure down to the last sashay and tremble of the brokenhearted.

For what else but love makes the world go round, and here there are five stories to boot—Irene’s, Sandra’s, Erica’s, Ester’s and Bessie’s, the B in the title whose letters to her name are the first letters in the names of the other heroines.

A sign of national artist Lee’s humility is when he didn’t even notice that he was brushed aside by security men of a former Miss Universe at a book fair, until it was pointed out by proverbial concerned netizens.

This same setting aside of ego is mimicked by de Jesus who lets Lee’s prose subsume her, indeed carry her and the readers away in a land formerly known as English, for isn’t that what the best writers do, reinvent the language?

If Lee’s novel can be translated into another book, different yet the same, surely it can be transcribed onto the big screen, and in this wise perhaps no less than the veteran Elwood Perez would be up to it.

Lee has worked with Perez before in Snake Sisters decades ago, and the novel can take on another light of satire, steamy sex, slow-motion magic realism that de Jesus has admirably rendered in For B.

No need to count words or syllables in the next project, what’s lost is lost but good translations are found gems.