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The Revolutionary Road of Norman Wilwayco in “Gerilya” March 26, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Book Reviews, Literature, Noypi.

{ The writer, the smoker, the skateboarder (but not necessarily in that order). Norman Wilwayco has captured the fat-surrounded heart, the corroded liver, the hole-filled lungs, and the Filipino spirit drowned in gin and beer in Mondomanila (and its long subtitle), floating everything in filthy piss. He does not only write these stories; he is in the stories. He is the star, the bastard, the eater of vaginas. If you finish this novel in one sitting, don’t worry, nothing’s wrong with you. That’s how good it is. Learn every fuck word possible in the vernacular and see why Wilwayco is possibly the most interesting writer around in Philippine literature. – from the author’s review of Mondomanila two years ago }

The infectious conviviality of the literati over Miguel Syjuco’s win in the Man Asian Literary Prize for “Ilustrado” has stirred some new hopes and old inspiration among local writers, finding optimism in foreign prizes and subsequent funding for publication. No offense meant to our weak publishing industry, but the Philippines is not a very encouraging place for someone to be a writer—no one becomes a writer here solely by profession—because more than the necessity of art, one must not forget the need to survive, to eat three meals a day, to live. While Syjuco is rest assured of getting himself a publisher—a known publisher at the least—fellow writer Norman Wilwayco, who won the Palanca for “Gerilya,” is not even getting a muck of his success. A few months ago, he had put his novel online, available for everyone to download, for free. The ignorant may call that act “brave” and “revolutionary” but more than anything else, it is a sign of desperation initiated by a writer, who, despite his talent and notoriety, still has to wrestle with demons bigger than his own.

To send the manuscript to the printing press, Wilwayco requests for pre-order payments from people who wish to own the book. But unfortunately, up to now, despite needing only a minimum of 200 orders, and a fancy gimmick for the first 100, “Gerilya” has not yet seen the light of the day. This is really the land of “despites”—despite winning awards (he has won the Palanca Grand Prize twice), despite having able to publish before, despite causing a slur when he wrote an anecdote of attending a PEN convention that bored him, despite constantly coming up with new stories (three books in five years is not bad, not to mention a blog where he also publishes some of his stories), despite giving a distinct voice to urban tales and turning tabloid-serials and nasty pulp fiction into pieces more interesting than Xerex and Cristy Fermin’s blind items, Wilwayco, our rebel without a pause, is the frigging proof that nothing is an assurance. It is incredible, writing about the people who ignore you and never losing faith.

Once you strike a match and light “Gerilya” you realize that it is a type of weed different from “Mondomanila” and the stories in “Responde.” While the two books are rabidly written, squalidly and sordidly narrated, inconsistent and almost indigestible for the alta sociedad, “Gerilya” takes the risk of sounding mature and responsible. It becomes more concerned with the elements of its shifty style that sometimes its self-consciousness falls out of place. It comes out from hell calm and determined, every strand of hair in proper place. In comparison with his other works, it shows Wilwayco bargaining his comic vulgarity and sickening crankiness in exchange for rectitude and hopefulness. If “Mondomanila” is Chucky at play addicted to weed and vulvas, “Gerilya” is him in sedative, reflecting, still puffing joints but also recognizing the metanarratives of his socio-political climate, digging deeper to seek truth and eventually finding out that truth is irrelevant, forcing him to take arms, fight and give up, wandering and wondering—what in the world is still worth dying for? Or yet, living for?

The novel alternates between the narration of Ka Poli and the third-person account of Ka Alma’s experiences in the communist party, allowing us to immerse in their movement through varying conversations with party members and the townspeople—the “masa” who has been their driving force—and pensive reflections on Marxism, civil war, vigilantism, the marijuana religion, and a society free of cruel dominance and submission. Both were student-activists in the University, awfully aware of the circumstances where their ideologies are taking them. The only thing left for them to do after they graduated, aside from burying their names in oblivion, is to join the movement, to help the rural communities in the mountains, to inform them of their aim, to get what has been lost, taken away, and stolen from them: to be free. Their romance is borne out of their limitations, that in one painful moment they share a sin that betrays the group they have devotedly served.

What has given me a great deal of thinking is that while “Gerilya” is completely irrespective of the government, it does not also condone everything about the armed revolution. It is not faultless, far from blameless, considering the glitches that occur in between, but it is a solution to overthrow the beast that has been corrupting the goodness of the poor for so long. Wilwayco recognizes its shortcomings, and through forceful description of grit—for instance, the massacre of cows in the beginning and the bloodbath in Par Queen’s house—he challenges the sympathy that is not needed, the unnecessary decisions that go against the Reds’ ideals. For quite a number of times while reading the book, a thought enters so loud, barging in like a complete stranger just to tell me that if I can’t be happy in my own country then I can’t be happy anywhere else. That thought makes me feel ill at ease.

There are numerous typographical errors that disturb the momentum of reading (by auteur theory, these typos are Wilwayco’s consistent characteristic), but like the shoes you wear everyday, you get used to the dirt. The flashbacks prove to be both helpful and misleading, and at times they emphasize the author’s weakness in coherence. The virgule is also a bit overused; aside from sticking to a style, I don’t know how much it can help. When the book is assessed in its entirety, however, these are petty observations, considering that clever placement in the end which has given the novel an appropriate feeling upon withdrawal.

Somewhat in a similar battleground, Wilwayco is also fighting for a revolution that for a long time really needs a significant change. While Rizal is waiting for a publisher for his next book, the Supremo has finally lit the bomb and announced a coup.

*A completely different  version of this article appeared in Fudge in February 2009



1. /bolix - March 29, 2010

And Syjuco’s Ilustrado is here. Soon.


2. Richard Bolisay - March 29, 2010

any thoughts on the cover?

3. Books by NW » Blog Archive » The Revolutionary Road of Norman Wilwayco in “Gerilya” - August 1, 2011

[…] […]

4. chen - December 26, 2011

san po mkakabili ng book mo na gerilya? wala na ka si sa bookay-ukay..tnx

5. sean - February 22, 2012

boss, saan po tayo pwede maka bili ng responde at gerilya? thanks

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