Short Stories of the Philippines
A Reading Life Project
Rony V. Diaz
Rony V. Diaz has been awarded the Palanca Award, the most prestigious literary award of the Philippines, several times. He has taught English at the University of the Philippines. He is currently the publisher of The Manila Times, one of the premier daily newspapers in Asia. I find the editorial and general prose in The Manila Times to be very high and for sure written at a higher level than most American newspapers.
"At War's End" (this short story maybe based or the basis for a novel by Diaz of the same name-if anyone knows the full publishing history of this story please let me know) starts out with a very dramatic attention holding line: "The evening before he killed himself, Virgilio Serrano gave a dinner party". Of course this makes you wonder why he killed himself and why he felt a need to have a dinner party on the eve of his suicide.
"At War's End", set shortly after the end of WWII in Manila, is told in the first person by a college friend of Virgilio. They are both in their early twenties. It seems Vergilio has a great life awaiting him. He lives with his father and sister in a pre-war mansion and has four servants and a driver whose only job is to wait on him. The neighborhood he lives in is beginning to recover from the consequences of the battle for Manila but through luck his house was undamaged. It is the center for intellectual gatherings where people stay up all night talking about art, literature and politics. His family has a huge agricultural plantation with over 1000 tenants (working on sort of a share-cropping basis) The estate, remote from Manila of course, was managed by his father's sister Clara who lived there full time in a 17th century stone hacienda. She was a very astute business woman who knew where ever peso went and came from. Virgilio was an only child whose mother was killed in a car accident when he was young and his father never remarried. He will one day be very rich with a long life of total freedom ahead of him.
In the universities there is much talk of social justice. Virgillio begins, under pressure from classmates and influenced by what he reads, to question the justice of 1000 tenants and their family working in grinding poverty just to support him in leisured comfort. He begins to think once the time comes when he is in control of the estate he will either will it to the tenants or perhaps, after providing for aunt Clara, divide it up and end the feudalism his family has lived from for generations.
Diaz is a very skillful writer who lets us wonder why Virgillio killed himself. Was it because he did not feel he could live with the guilt of being the lord of a vast estate while at the same time not being able to live without the status and money this brought him.
You can read this story, and lots of other short stories by Authors from the Philippines HERE