Wednesday, December 30, 2009

book review: "Rizal Without the Overcoat" by Ambeth R. Ocampo

Ambeth R. Ocampo

I have wanted to read "Rizal Without the Overcoat" by Ambeth Ocampo since the beginning of the year, and as Rizal Day was looming nearer I thought, what better day to read the book than on the anniversary of Rizal's death, which was today? I almost didn't get to read it though, for when I went to National Bookstore in SM Manila yesterday I couldn't find a copy and the store's computer listed it as out of stock. Then as I believe fate would have it, when I returned to the store a couple of hours later to get the pen I had engraved, I saw the book displayed at one of the cashiers and promptly got it.

The main reason I wanted to read the book [the minor one being to read it as part of the Flips Flipping Pages 2009 Diversity Challenge] was because I wanted to give Rizal another chance. Give Rizal another chance at what, you may ask.

Rizal was my childhood hero. I think this was because of the books my parents gave me and which became my favorite books in childhood, illustrated biographies of the young Jose Rizal geared towards the young reader.

"Rizal His Childhood" by Gregorio F. Zaide,
[the only?] one of my young Rizal books that survived the years

Reading Ambeth Ocampo's book I was surprised to learn that he finished high school and college without reading Rizal's novels "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo", for not only did I read them when they were assigned in Filipino class during high school, I enjoyed them. However, when I went to university [the same university which was apparently Rizal's favorite] and took the required Rizal class, I became disillusioned with him, for then I thought him a privileged but spoiled man who didn't care much about the revolution against the Spanish colonizing his country. Now, after reading "Rizal Without the Overcoat", I'm beginning to understand that it was not that Rizal didn't support the revolution, he just didn't think it was the right time for it then.

"Rizal Without the Overcoat" treats its readers to vignettes of Rizal's life. Who would have thought that Rizal ate tuyo for breakfast? I was also happy to learn that Rizal was a bookworm like I am, who would rather starve than not be able to buy books. The book also shows Rizal as a son, a brother, a scholar, an artist, a teacher, and the hero that he is, but I think most importantly, as a human being. Ambeth Ocampo makes me want to [re]discover more, not only about Rizal but our other heroes as well, apart from the dry facts presented in school textbooks.

In the end, the book makes one think of the relevance of Rizal today. Unfortunately, many people think of Rizal Day as a mere non-working holiday, without pausing to reflect on the reason why this date was set aside to honor Jose Rizal.

"... my future, my life, my joys, everything, I have sacrificed for love of her. Whatever my fate may be, I shall die blessing my country and wishing her the dawn of her redemption."

Is there anyone alive now who is be able to say the same?