BOOK REVIEW: Dekada ‘70

by Rose Churma

It would be 50 years this year since the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines. In September 1972, then-President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and imposed martial rule.

This was a time of student unrest, and how the iron-hand rule of the Marcos regime radicalized its citizens to join dissent groups, go underground and undertake subversive activities.

This novel is the story of a middle-class family and its struggles during this dark decade of Philippine history.

The 1970s is described through the eyes of the main female protagonist, Amanda Bartolome, a mother with five boys who come of age during that decade. It is also her story as a woman and her stand as a mother and citizen.

The author disclosed in early February 2022 that Penguin Classics is interested to re-publish this landmark novel under its imprint but in English. Although an English version is available now (translated by Clarice B. de Jesus and can be ordered via the author’s website) it is not as widely circulated compared to the original Tagalog/Filipino version.

Penguin Classics editor Elda Rotor (based in NYC) who read the book in English notes:

“I read your English translation of Dekada ’70 and found the Bartolome’s family’s story in the era of Martial Law, especially from the mother Amanda’s perspective, very moving, timely, and propulsive and see the potential classic for a wider English-language audience, specially students, outside the Philippines.”

We hope that Penguin Classics plans for publishing the novel in English comes through. I must confess that for one like me who has embraced the English language so completely (to the detriment of my capability of reading in my native Tagalog/Filipino), absorbing this novel in its original form became a challenge.

I remember the days when I can read the contents of Liwayway and Bulaklak – magazines in written in Tagalog with ease during my younger days. But I guess 45 years of living in Hawaii, and totally immersing myself to write and speak English well, has eroded my ability to appreciate my own native language.

Sad but true (but can be undone as I now listen to broadcasts in Tagalog/Filipino regularly and struggle to read more text in my language of birth).

A colleague who has retained that ability to speak, write (including create literary pieces in Tagalog/Filipino) assisted me in reviewing this book. Thank you, Nilda Bautista Boland for coming to my rescue.   (The full version of the oral book review can be found on this link <>.

Nilda, like Amanda Bartolome’s sons, came of age during this decade. And like one of the protagonists in this novel, she was drawn into and was part of the student protests that rocked the nation.

Her distraught mother took her back to the province and ended her college days in Manila. But she ended up joining the rebels in the province once more leaving home and putting her mother in constant anguish, wondering about her whereabouts.

In looking back during those years, now that she is a mother herself, and after reading Amanda Bartolome’s journey as depicted in the book, Nilda commiserates with the pain her mother must have gone thru during those years trying to balance the desire to keep one’s children “safe” but also realizing the need for political change for the sake of the country.

In the foreword, the author notes that readers have wondered if the novel was autobiographical, and whether she actually experienced the incidents described in the book.

According to Nilda, the descriptions of how it was to evade capture, the safe houses, the terror inherent in flight from the military authorities were written so well the details vividly illustrated in words that hit you “like a slap in the face” as one critic says (review from Cinema, May-June 1984).

Dekada ’70 was one of the two grand prize winners of the novel for the Palanca Awards (1983). It was adapted into a movie in 2003 with Vilma Santos in the title role of Amanda Bartolome and can be streamed via YouTube.

Lualhati Bautista is a Filipina writer, novelist, liberal activist and political critic. She was born in Tondo, Manila and graduated from the Lyceum of the Philippines University.

She won the Palanca awards not only for the novel Dekada ’70 but also for her short stories in Filipino published in local magazines. Her other most popular novels include Bata, Bata, Pa’no Ka Ginawa? and ‘GAPÔ and are in Tagalog/Filipino.

We look forward to the Penguin Classics’ release of the English version.  “A literary piece every Filipino, concerned or otherwise, should read at least once.” (From WHO, February 22, 1984).

An English version would widen readership to Filipinos in the Diaspora like me, who have lost their skill at reading their own language, or at least until we re-acquire those skills.

ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.

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