Sunday, January 06, 2008
In a nutshell, Vicente Garcia Groyon’s The Sky Over Dimas (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 2003) is a complex tale of a family’s secrets. Set in the colorful, West Visayan City of Bacolod, the novel encompasses the dark history of the Torrecarions – from the patriarch, George, who went crazy upon having to deal with fate’s revenge on his forefathers’ material greed, to the matriarch, Margie, who was equally queer caused by her sleeping drug dependency, to Rafael, the younger of George’s son who was to become the lone survivor of the disasters destined to destroy the Torrecarion clan. Beginning at the remarkable collapse in the 1980’s of the sugar industry (for which Bacolod and the rest of Negros Occidental was world-famous), the story stretches up to the contemporary times, in fact up to post-Edsa period.
While the author made careful details in order to create life-like characters worthy of mention in the novel, the main protagonist, Rafael, is deemed to have the most psychological burden of all, being the last sane person in a family brutally confronted by the ghosts of the past. A self-driven young man whose scholarship grant in the University of the Philippines opened a way for his escape from Bacolod, Rafael found himself incapable of getting away from the family curse after his mother summoned him to leave Manila and rescue his father stubbornly hiding in their ancestral manor—Hacienda Dimas.
This plot is enriched by the conflict between Rafael, who was determined at bringing his father back to the city proper, and George, who was equally determined at staying behind as a means of self-flagellation for the evil schemes his ancestors resorted to in order to claim their family’s vast track of sugarcane fields. While the clan’s history was based on the limited, flawed worldview of their late 1800’s patriarch, Negros Island’s first Hispanic haciendero, George made a corrective counter-history in his final attempt to redeem the cursed Torrecarions, his own legend that was to be his basis for getting coddled in the manor in the first place. Rafael resolved the conflict by deciding to go on with his mother’s plan, which would have succeeded but for George’s self-immolation. George chose to burn himself alive than have his son incur condemnation in hell for being an heir to the Torrecarions’ sins.
The most salient theme of the novel is that no secrets are ever kept unknown forever, as are the Torrecarions’ secrets whose revelation led to the unencumbrance of Rafael as the ultimate inheritor of the family curse. By way of rectifying history, George let loose the truth that shall set his family free. In Rafael’s case, his father’s truth is George’s take at assigning Rafael his well-deserved redemption.
The accolades heaped upon Groyon’s first novel, most notable of which are the 2002 Grand Prize for the Novel in the Palanca and the 2003 Best Fiction from Manila Critics Circle’s National Book Awards, are truly deserved. The Sky Over Dimas is magnificent for its unforgettable characters, vivid settings, luminous plot and fluid style not always seen in the works of very young writers like Groyon. While the author’s association with the life-infused Bacolod must have done a great deal for him to explore that magical microcosm of surreal Philippines, it is the use of history and counter-history that really interests most of its readers, what with the setting of life facts into prime importance especially for people of the modern world whose identity gets lost in the dizzying charade of various scientific, technological, western and like ideologies. The Sky Over Dimas is indeed an excellent contribution to Philippine literature for its devoted portrayal of Bacolodnon humanity in particular, and of Filipino humanity in general.