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Yuson’s parable is post-pandemic

By JUANIYO ARCELLANA, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 26, 2022 5:00 am

A funny thing happened on the way to the book launch of Alfred A. Yuson’s The Mountain That Grew (San Anselmo Publications 2022) in late August this year; we never did get to the venue at the UP hostel, forced to turn back because of the traffic that grew from EDSA on down to White Plains and Katipunan; everyone must have had the same idea of getting some fresh air as pandemic restrictions started to ease.

The book itself, sent by the author just days later with an upstanding dedication worthy of a heads up, can’t exactly be called a children’s book, though the language is very layman—maybe even deceptively simple—though we may be deceiving ourselves to think that only kids will benefit from such reads, the text coming with excellent artwork and drawings by Marcel and Ilana Antonio, whose relation is not disclosed but the mountain that grew and keeps on growing couldn’t care less, is the least of its concerns.

One may hark back to lost memory, of childhood reads or books we read to our children in an apartment on Conchu Street, off Vito Cruz, traffic not as terrible then: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, or even those little books by Par Lagerkvist, the Nobel prize winner whose parables were accompanied by black and white illustrations and line drawings. Even Yuson’s own earlier The Boy Who Ate Stars, drawings by Beth Parrocha, which must have been semi-autobiographical with similarly environmental concerns—aren’t stars what we see when having teeth pulled?

But Yuson’s mountain that grew surely also has some philosophical undertones, where the cover may remind one of the view from Antulang resort in Negros, the boats in the cove and Mt. Talinis not far away, a prototype waiting to happen. Ka Liser lives in an island village that has a mountain that keeps growing; the climbers can’t keep up with it, much less dreamers who must piece together a solution to their predicament, especially as Liser has decided to take it upon himself to rein in the runaway mountain, enough is enough.

Here the village elder is both hero and antihero, whose insomniac ways and sleepless demeanor are direct counterpoint to the villagers’ normal nighttime forays into the subconscious, forcing Liser to sleep and dream during the day—a daydreamer!

Many years ago the obscure band Monkees recorded a song titled Daydream Believer, which may have posited that just because you dream during the day doesn’t mean it is less unreal than the mind’s emanations during nighttime, notwithstanding REM and everybody hurts.

Actually more on the side of What’s the Frequency Kenneth? though the Kenneth here could be Liser, where everyone’s dream, be they insomniac or sleepwalker, is to be “startled by sunlight” on the ever-shifting peak of the mythical Mt. Lariq.

In Manao the villagers might welcome the reader to the new normal, except what’s new may not necessarily be normal, save for the face masks gone. What it means to be startled by sunlight is maybe to be woke, so that even if the new boss is same as the old boss (The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again), we’ve still got next. A digression: how can you fault a guy who wants to redeem the family name? Surely there’s no undertaking more noble.

Just as Ka Liser wants to redeem the mountain of his childhood, the pileup of recurring dreams that form a mountain of themselves. This may also be the reverse of the tower of Babel: instead of a gaggle of tongues we have a common Esperanto (or is it alibata).

Saw the pictures, of course, on social media; singalongs late into the night, faces we hadn’t seen in a while still smiling. Despite our separate mountains now come together despite ourselves.