PALH BOOK REVIEWS

 

JAVELLANA: DID HE DIE WITHOUT SEEING THE DAWN?:
The Odyssey of a Young Writer’s First and Only Novel
Without Seeing the Dawn, published by Little, Brown, Boston, 1947

Reviewed by Alberto Florentino
(with a column by Francisco Arcellana)


I. THE WRITER: Stevan Javellana, formerly (or less) known as Esteban Javellana

I first "met" Javellana in print through his short stories published in the ‘50s Manila Times Magazine, of which I remember well "Two Tickets to Manila." His other stories included: "Transition" which Jose Garcia Villa listed  "with *** asterisks" in his Honor Roll of Short Stories from 1926 to 1940).

Later I was to "meet" Javellana again, but only on the pages of his novel published by Little, Brown, Boston, 1947. His byline had been Anglicized as Stevan Javellana.

Finally I met him—in person—but still only from a respectful distance. In 1964 Javellana was one of some 100 writers attending the USIS-sponsored symposium, "Literature & Society: the Relation of Literature to Social Change," held in Makati, Rizal.

I don't remember having shook Javellana's hand or exchanged pleasantries with him. He was more than a decade older than I; he had fought as a guerrilla in a war against the Japanese invaders; he had published a first novel in the US 10,000 miles away that became a bestseller of sorts.

Javellana lived most of his life in Iloilo where he was born 1918, only 22 years after Jose Rizal's execution in distant Manila in 1896. When the young man was moved to write a novel about his country and people, he quite naturally picked as his book’s title a line from a speech by a character in Rizal's Noli Me Tangere.

How did a young writer from one of the 7,000+ islands publish a first novel in New York on the oppisite of the world?

Javellana stayed in the U.S. after the war ended in 1945, and like the man in “the flying trapeze,” came out with the book a scant two years later in 1947.

There is no mention anywhere as to how he did it: through an agent? By registered overseas mail? Was the ms. submitted “over the transom”?

Did he write the first part of the novel ("Day") before and after the first year of World War II and the Japanese invasion and occupation (1942-44)? Did he write the second part ("Night") after the author with his ms. survived the war and left to sojourn in the U.S.? He wrote very little about his life until the day he died.

The novel became an instant bestseller in the US and in Manila because of the interest of the U.S. in a country and people who were bombed on the same “day of infamy” (although on different dates) in Dec. 1941. 

The book sold some 125,000 in the U.S. and was reprinted in a Manila paperback edition by Alemar's-Phoenix in 1976. In 1970 it was “freely adapted” as a movie by film director Lino Brocka. Entitled “Santiago!", the movie starred Fernando Poe Jr. and Hilda Koronel. Years later the book was made into a mini-series television movie.

In the US the novel was a shoe-in as a bestseller. The American reading public was familiar with Bataan, Corregidor, The “Death March.” And Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who played a major role in the defense of the nation and was a tenant of the Manila Hotel’s penthouse suite until he fled the Philippines in a submarine via Australia, with the vow, "I shall return."

It was not known if Javellana had a manuscript for this second novel which he was trying to place in Manila or in New York.

During the ‘70s; ‘80s and ‘90s there were opportunities for a centennial memorial book edition or another genuine movie version of the novel in the the post-Brocka years.

During the 90s decade we saw scores of books published or reprinted in the three University Presses, including the reprint program of the UP Press under Laura Samson.

Surely, theses must have been written on Javellana and on his first and only novel, from which could have been drawn a collection of short stories.or a biography of the author.

55 YEARS AFTER

More than half a century after his first/only novel, we still know little of Javellana’s life nor known much about the status of his novel: Is it one of the best Filipino novels in English? One of the best WAR novels? Is it a candidate for the GFN (Great Filipino Novel)? Or just a “flash in the pan” bestseller? What is the writer’s status in Philippine Literature in English, as a novelist and author of a war novel?

The Ateneo de Manila or the De La Salle university presses has not reprinted the book. The U.P. Press had not included it in the more than 100 titles during the Centennial years of publishing (1986-1989 and beyond).

We missed issuing a 50th anniversary edition of the novel in 1997. Can we hope to have a 100th anniversary edition in 2047?

In 1998 we also missed celebrating his 80th birth anniversary. Our next “open window” of opportunity is 2003 when he would have been 85 years old.


EPITAPHS FOR A “DEAD POET” AND A NEGLECTED MASTERPIECE

After a diligent search I got hold of a tattered copy of the Javellana’s novel, Without Seeing the Dawn. The book is a 368-page paperback-sized edition printed on a. 3rd-grade newsprint made brittle and brown by time.

The back of the book carries blurbs by Carlos Bulosan, Jose Garcia Villa, and Francisco Arcellana.

• CARLOS BULOSAN [author of "America Is in the Heart"] wrote:

["Stevan Javellana's Without Seeing the Dawn is] …the best novel written by a Filipino in the English language."

• JOSE GARCIA VILLA [author of "Have Come, Am Here" and "Selected Poems and New"]:

"I was moved by the book tremendously; I don't believe it can fail to move anyone. … I found his book very faithful to Philippine life—it has no falseness about it whatsoever … a Philippine classic, it is genuine, very genuine indeed."

• FRANCISCO ARCELLANA (author of "The Francisco Arcellana Sampler"]:

"… the finest Filipino novel written in English... perhaps the classic of its time."***

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Francisco Arcellana, in his Manila Chronicle/This Week column, "Through a Glass, Darkly (1949) wrote at length:

Besides Carlos Bulosan, the only other short story writer represented in The Varsitarian's Best of the Year who had a book published abroad is Stevan Javellana. "The Tree of Peace," the story he contributes to this literary annual, is really a parable.

One cannot write of Stevan Javellana without speaking of Without Seeing the Dawn which is still the finest Filipino novel written in English [as of the year of writing: 1949]. I have read and reread it and have each time come away more convinced that it is perhaps the classic of its time." And what I saw most eminent in it was the fact that it seemed to be deeply rooted in time in the sense of Katherine Mansfield when she wrote as if in adjuration of herself— "To be rooted in life."

The novel, Without Seeing the Dawn, was the logical culmination of Stevan Javellana's art as a short story writer. When the Pacific war broke out, Javellana was going to the college of Law, University of the Phlippines, and had by then already made a name for himself for well written, closely and deeply observed stories of the Philippine countryside. The [Japanese] Occupation found him still writing (for it was his only form of resistance) although not publishing. And when liberation came, he already had the complete manuscript of without Seeing the Dawn. As writer of short stories, Javellana was already "rooted in life." This rootedness was to strike its source in his first novel.

But Without Seeing the Dawn was not alone an inevitable development of Javellana's narrative art; it was also heir to the finesses that the art of narration in the Phlippines had been all along discovering for itself. Javellana had an almost natural gift for storytelling; to this gift has been added the insights that went into the writing of [Jose Garcia Villa's] "Footnote to Youth,"  [Manuel E. Arguillas'] "How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife," and [Juan Cabreros Laya's] His Native Soil.

After Without Seeing the Dawn, Javellana wrote a number of short stories which were still "rooted in life." These were the stories that belong to the group which includes "The Sin of Father Anselmo" and "Sleeping Tablets."

But with "The Fifth Man," a very tight, well-written, and compact story (it was also well received), Javellana made a kind of break: He has suddenly become interested in ideas. Characterization, which has always been one of his two strong points (the other is his sense of situation), is made subservient to the abstract; and situation is only coeval and coequal with the idea that he wishes to render.

And with "The Tree of Peace," the break is almost complete. This story is a parable, a parable for the atomic age. But there is in it no characterization to speak of and the situation is even more negligible. It is true that in the course of the story Javellana manages to disburden himself of certain rather weighty opinions which do contribute a certain air of impressiveness to it, but there is almost no "story" to speak of—story, that is, in the sense of the narrative.

And the rootedness in life which so distinguishes his short stories and the novel is nowhere to be seen; there is instead a rootedness (if you can call it that—it is perhaps more truly a kind of hanging in the air) in [some]thing else.—FRANCISCO ARCELLANA, Nov. 27, 1949
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Other blurbs:

"And as a story at once tender and brutal, charged with love yet muffled by violence, [the novel] will not be easily forgotten."
—NEW YORK TIMES

"Stevan Javellana has written a story worthy to become a classic. It is a simply told story of a simple people. Here is the depth and passion of an independent people under evil alien occupation." —NEW YORK SUN

"No Filipino since Rizal has handled fiction with the sureness and deftness shown in this book. *** This … bitter, brutal first novel … will take its place in Philippine literature alongside Jose Rizal's flaming Noli Me Tangere.”—CHICAGO SUN

BACK TO THE FUTURE 2002:

All these came back to me when I attended the book launching of a first novel in New York.

When Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe, a California-born Filipino American, was launched at the Asian American Writers Workshop on 32nd St. in Manhattan.

After reading a few pages from her novel, Tess Holthe gave a short talk about her Filipino American childhood in California, about her extended family, about her father he doted on, and the writing of her first novel at age 34.

I reminded the youthful author that her book came out 55 years after Javellana's Without Seeing the Dawn. Her novel, described as a war novel, comes as the latest pearl in a garland of novels that trace a lineage through Javellana's 1947 novel to Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere (and its sequel El Filibusterismo).

Is Javellana’s Without Seeing the Dawn rightly a war novel? Its first half (titled Day) narrates the story of a barrio and its people, and the main characters during the prewar (or peacetime) years in the Island of Panay and the city of Iloilo.

Its 2nd part (“Night”) opens with the dramatic start of World War II in both the US and the Philippines. Now the barrio people and characters of the novel live through depredations by an occupying military forces and resistance movement to protect the people from the uniformed enemy.

The novel ends not unlike the ending of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of war on foreign soil: For Whom the Bells Toll.

EPITAPH:

Javellana never published another book or novel in Manila or in New York. The writer from La Paz, Iloilo City in the Visayas died in 1977 at the age of 59.

For three decades (1947 to 1977) he led a brief but celebrated life as writer-novelist.

Fifty-five years after his first novel, twenty-five years after his death, he has been one of the—if not the most neglected—Filipino writer.

Did Javellana die “without seeing the dawn”?

 

 

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