by Rose Cruz Churma

This book won the Manila Critics Circle Award for biography in 1996 and was also selected by the Editorial Board of the University of the Philippines Press Centennial Publication in celebration of the first 100 years of the institution which was established in 1908.

In the book’s preface, the author writes: “Sixty years ago over a hundred thousand innocent civilians suffered horrendously in the hands of the retreating Japanese soldiers in the Battle for the Liberation of Manila.”

The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to the first quarter of 1945 until “Liberation” when American troops regained control of the entire archipelago.

The war years are part of the Filipino-American story that is mostly told from the perspective of soldiers, or biographies of war heroes and guerrilla activities.

Although the most gripping parts of the book are the author’s recollection of the last days of the war, it is also a description of the gracious days during the American Commonwealth period and the lifestyles of the upper middle class where her family belonged.

Except for Warsaw, Manila was the most devastated city during World War II. The Americans purposely destroyed the city to flush out the enemy who in turn inflicted barbaric atrocities on the hapless civilians.

The Japanese have chosen to forget its wartime massacre of non-combatant civilians. Those who lived through that nightmare were too traumatized and chose to forget.This book did not start as a memoir. When Nick Joaquin was asked to write a biography of her father, Nicanor Reyes, the founder of the Far Eastern University (FEU), Lourdes R. Montinola was asked to recollect memories about her father and his last days during the war.

As a survivor of that war, Lourdes R. Montinola had “pushed back to the deep recesses of my mind” the horrors of those times. “How can I describe what I could never talk about? Someone once said that some experiences lie beyond language because their language is silence,” she said.

Through a series of journal entries for a creative writing workshop, she wrote vignettes of the war years to help tell her father’s story. The first vignette was about a young girl named Milagros abandoned by her family, who came to join their household towards the end of the war.

The last narrative was about her mother, because as she says: “The story of my father would not be complete without the mention of my mother. Each was indispensable to the other and they needed to die together. They did—only a few hours apart.”The author writes in short, structured sentences and the simplicity of her storytelling as she recounts those days when her entire family was massacred by retreating Japanese soldiers, is so hard to read.

I had to stop and close my eyes—move around, do something else—to remove the ghastly images that her words evoked. It was only after 50 years that she was able to relive those memories, understandably so, because what she and her family went through is so horrific.

The fact that she survived and lived a full productive life despite the trauma, is a testament to her spirit.

Lourdes Reyes Montinola is not new to writing and publications. Her first book published in 1991 was Piña, written because of her desire to preserve the uniquely Filipino weaving tradition from extinction. It won the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award for art in 1991.

She is currently Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the FEU, the university that her father founded in 1928. Although her main interests are in the field of art, culture and heritage conservation, she continues to be active in various civic, religious and charitable organizations.

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ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at

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