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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Sense of the City: Manila
The BBC is asking novelists who have a profound understanding of the city they live in to reflect on the fiction it has produced and the various works of literature set there.

F Sionil Jose is one of the Philippines' most prominent writers. He is the author of numerous short stories, essays and novels, including the five-volume Rosales Saga that chronicles the lives of generations of the Samson family, whose story intertwines with the social struggles of the Philippines. He has received many fellowships and awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature in 1980.

I wasn't born in Manila, but I came here when I was 13 and grew up in Manila.

This was, of course, before World War Two and all through the occupation I spent a lot of time in Manila too.

Manila is an old crone, it's a raggedy beggar, it's an elegantly dressed woman, it's a jaded harlot
So I know what this place looked like before the war, during the war, and also how it was destroyed in 1945.

Authors like myself choose the city as a setting for their fiction because the city itself illustrates the progress or the sophistication that a particular country has achieved.

Or, on the other hand, it might also reflect the kind of decay, both social and perhaps moral, that has come upon a particular people.

Manila is one such city, and in writing about the city like I do, I use it in contrast to the village where I came from. Manila is a macrocosm, not a microcosm of the country itself.

Here you have a mix of so many ethnic groups in the sense that people from the north and the south and from the Visayan islands all congregate here because Manila is also the seat of power, the seat of commerce and the seat of culture.

We are raising a breed of young people who are chasing the peso as best they can and who have also forgotten a lot of the old mannerisms and the old slogans by which rural Filipinos live
If I were to describe Manila, Manila is an old crone, it's a raggedy beggar, it's an elegantly dressed woman, it's a jaded harlot.

I would prefer the description of a very jaded woman trying to retain a bit of her old finery - that's how I would describe my city. It expresses what we are.

If I were to write another book set in Manila, I would most probably try to describe the life of the Filipino yuppies, because we are raising a breed of young people who are chasing the peso as best they can and who have also forgotten a lot of the old mannerisms and the old slogans by which rural Filipinos live.

These are young Filipinos who know a little bit about the differences, for instance, between Australian wines and French wines, who can order chateaubriand, but don't have too much of the wherewithal to achieve the good life.


Sense of the City can be heard on the BBC World Service programme The World Today until Friday 8 August, and includes Orhan Pamuk talking about Istanbul, Romesh Gunesekera on Colombo, and Zadie Smith looking at London.


WATCH AND LISTEN
F Sionil Jose
"Manila is a macrocosm, not a microcosm of the country itself"




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