in this slim, powerful novel, F. Sionil Jose, one of the leading literary voices of Asia and the Pacific, tells all. Don Carlos Cobello, a worldly man, has been a diplomat, entrepreneur, gourmand, and sinner. Like other memoirists, he reveals more than he intends. Born to wealth, he was determined to increase it. Born to corruption, he sees no reason to give up too much of a good thing. Born of woman, he sets about seducing -- or simply taking -- every woman he sees, starting with his sister.
He is a prince of accommodation; his family has drawn close to power no matter who dominated their islands, be it the Spanish, the Japanese, or the Americans. (A woman shared with a Japanese colonel in a family-owned brothel returns their favors by passing on to one the disease of the other.)
The colorful cast includes a "hero of the Revolution" who purchased land with revolutionary funds, a close poker-playing friend of General Douglas MacArthur, and the illegitimate son of a maid who later becomes a lawyer destined for greatness.
Cobello's wealth, incest, and casual infidelities are no hindrance to an upwardly mobile career. In the "incredible reality that is the Philippines," says Jose, "the higher one goes, the whiter one becomes." For, as Cobello puts it, "here, sin is a social definition, not a moral one."
Sins will add to the stature of F. Sionil Jose and to his growing reputation in the United States.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My name is Carlos Cobello. My very close friends and associates call me C.C. If I were to describe myself, I would say I am what the ancient Greeks called Anar Spoudogeloios—a calm, collected individual, not aloof, not hot-tempered, serious of visage and cheerful. I have served in my country’s foreign service; those who know this address me as Mr. Ambassador. As a leading member of the sugar bloc, I have, of course, been called a sugar baron. I have also been called a nationalist entrepreneur—a sobriquet I carefully nurtured and like very much. But my enemies—businessmen as well as ideologues—regard me as a predatory menace to Philippine society.
How do I begin this litany? Is this the time to do it? In my present mood of isolation and decay, crippled as I am, should I even try to put things down? A form of expiation, perhaps, or atonement, the recitation of a thousand mea culpas? And if I do it, which I know I must, should I be a slave to the rigid chronology of time or to some human conceit that will blot out everything self-deprecating? I know I have lived an interesting life, but will it be possible for me to relate this life interestingly?
Maybe I should begin by saying that I am dying—that is the most melodramatic way of starting it. They say that truth always sits on the lips of dying men. Crap! Hard-core liars lie to their last gasp, molding with apparent sincerity those fictions that they hope they can leave behind to gild, to veneer their lives of shame. I will not do this because, in truth, I have rarely lied in my life. Those who know me well, my dear Corito, my Angela, they can vouch not just for my honesty but also for my congenital decency.
I read Hamlet during the war and I have always believed:
This, above all, to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I agree completely. Never a lender be. Just borrow and borrow and borrow …
I have always known that I will not be able to take with me anything of the vestiges of power, the artifacts and the perks of affluence that I have amassed. History tells me Alexander the Great was buried with his hands outstretched and empty to show the world, half of which was then his dominion, that he could take not even a lump of soil with him. And so it is with me. What then can I truly keep? Not my hundred antique cars now rusting away in a field in Bulacan, not the millions in jewelry I have given Angela, Corito and my women. I always replied when asked what I amassed: what else but those ineffable memories that light up the dark recesses of the past. Memories, indeed, shining now like diamonds as I pick them up one by one to polish and to caress.
But Delfin—my son, my only son in whom reposes all my hopes, who bears in his tissues my primal genes—does not love me. Maybe, he hates me in a manner never explicit, engendered in his innermost core by his mother. Oh, Severina, forgive me. I was so young then, just as you were young, too. I loved and sinned. Forgive me.
Now, the intractable chronology of time.
I always knew we were rich. We had this big house in Sta. Mesa, built by my grandfather when that place was wilderness, an expanse of cogon waste as my father remembered it. My grandfather, who was one of the leaders of the revolution against Spain, had the title to this land, some twenty hectares or more, which was lorded over by a low hill overlooking Manila as it was then, just a huddle of wooden houses except for the Walled City, where, for some centuries, the Spaniards had continually built houses of stone and the walls that surrounded the city. My grandfather planted the acacia trees along the street that led to the house and around the house itself, the trees that were already tall when I was a child, now great green giants that shade the street and the grounds.
My grandfather is regarded in school textbooks as a hero, and a long street that leads from Grace Park to the heart of Manila—Quiapo, that is—is named after him. By the turn of the century, he already foresaw the frenetic bustle that would bloat the city. In a sense, the old house became his formidable retreat. With its thick brick walls, its tile roof and the finest hardwood for beams and floors, it could easily last another hundred years, perhaps longer than the stone houses in Intramuros, had they not been destroyed during the war.
We had a lot of servants including Ah Chee, the amah from Canton who took care of me and my sister, Corito, four years older than I. Most of the servants came from our Hacienda Esperanza in San Quentin, Nueva Ecija. Esperanza was my grandmother’s name.
I took this surfeit of ease for granted, this life of privilege to which I was born, and could hardly imagine an existence such as that of our house help and of the tenants in the hacienda with their small thatched houses. I could not see myself toiling in the fields in all that heat or slashing rain. But early on, I knew the value of money—this my mother constantly dinned into us. The price of a ganta of rice, of a kilo of pork; she was not poor but her family made its fortune through labor—they made furniture—not from inheritance as was my father’s case. Once, Father, who early on had begun collecting Chinese porcelain, dropped a Sung vase as he was taking it from its shelf.
“It would take Jacobo,” Mother said, referring to one of the drivers, “ten years of continuous work to pay for that vase.” When we were eating, she would point to some particular fish—she did the marketing in Quiapo—saying that such and such fish cost so much.
I went to the San Juan de Letran College in Intramuros all through grade school. My parents spoke Spanish at home and so did my sister and I, and our amah, too. Letran was run by Spanish Dominicans and my father had friends among them. He was not going to let me grow Americanized like the boys the American Jesuits were raising at the Ateneo; to him, all the good things about this country were brought by Spain. But, like my grandfather, he was pragmatic enough to learn English, to be at home with it, for he knew it was the language of government, of business and of culture. It must be obvious from this recitation that we are mestizos, and can easily trace our pristine origins to Castille.
On this subject of our Spanish heritage, Father and I had passionate discussions. My reading of our history had broadened and, in some instances, citing chapter and verse, I would recall the clichés about friar abuses. Always, he would fall back on his last retort, that my ancestry included some friars indeed. Some of our relatives were still very much alive in Spain; I could always return and claim kinship with them. Why, then, did Grandfather join the revolution? He would smile slyly and say that if his father had not, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Like my grandfather, Father endowed his ancestry with superior intelligence, an attitude I came to share soon enough. “Oye,” he used to remind me when he was running everything himself after Grandfather had died. “Look at all these native attempts at business, these Indio corporations—no sooner do they start then they fall apart. It’s the corruption, the lassitude and laziness in Malay genes that enfeeble the Indios. But not those with Spanish or Chinese blood. They are the hope of this country.”
Whatever one might say about him, like me, Father was concerned and regarded himself a citizen of this country.
When he talked in this manner I would be silenced; I look around me, even now, and see the shameful rubble of enterprises that the Indios, in their ningas cogon, so enthusiastically set up, and then destroyed.
“And it will always be this way,” Father would conclude, his eyes raised to the ceiling, to a chandelier, to the fine narra beams, whatever there was for the eyes to latch onto, “because these natives are like children, just as the Spanish friars found them to be—simpleminded, incapable of intellectual or creative enterprise. The Malay in them is easily seduced by pleasure, by fiestas, by lazy habits and comfort.… Just watch even the poorest of them, how they while away time doing nothing. Nothing!”
Years afterward, remembering these conversations, I would analyze them; Father’s arguments were awry. He always spoke as if he knew how it is to work, but he had never really worked. He did not even finish college at San Juan de Letran. To him, work was simply supervising the hacienda in Nueva Ecija, twenty thousand hectares of it, encompassing all of San Quentin and two adjacent towns. Fifteen thousand hectares were planted to sugar cane, the rest to rice. A sugar mill in the next town served our hacienda and the adjacent haciendas that were also planted to sugar. He had very good encargados. Father stayed in the city most of the time, attending dinners at the Club Filipino. In Manila, about a dozen clerks collected the rents from the accesorias and other buildings that he owned in Quiapo, Sta. Cruz and Sampaloc.