Ang Nawawala (VisPrint, 2017) is the third book by fictionist and critic Chuckberry Pascual, his second collection of short stories. Pascual is a fellow of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, mentor to undergraduate and graduate students alike, and an inquisitive student of Philippine society.
Ang Nawawala is made up of seven crime stories, told from the viewpoint of detective / barangay hall receptionist Brigido (“Bree”). These are mysteries, but different, very different, from the much-praised and maybe-slighty-related-to-our-cultural-subordination works of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and G. K. Chesterton. The mysteries here are not the point. The crimes, wether theft or kidnapping, are not the crimes Pascual wants to highlight. The crime is poverty and social deprivation, the dispossesion of the Filipino people. The mystery is why the fuck we put up with it.
Perhaps, of course, this is putting too much of a political spin on Pascual’s collection. Another way to spin is that these are just really good and really funny stories about people suffering and existence being pointless. In “Ang mga Nawawalang Kalapati,” my favorite, Bree gets pushed around not just by his usual oppressors, but by people he thought were his friends and loved ones. “Ang Nawawalang Payong,” which closes the book, is a riff on Nietzsche’s notebook entry, “I have forgotten my umbrella.” This is life, a series of days where we forget, or lose, our umbrella, and get soaked in the rain.
Rosario Cruz-Lucero, in her “Writing to the Music of Pestle-on-Mortar,” admonishes younger writers to forget about aping Macondo and Yoknapatawpha County, and instead write about our bayan, which is every bit as interesting and marvelous as those previous two, with the added benefit of being ours. Pascual’s Macondo here in Ang Nawawala is Talong Punay, and it is indeed marvelous with its carinderia politics, barangay hall shenanigans, and doomed people. (Pascual is excellent when writing about small communities, see his “Berde,” in Kumpisal (UST Publishing House, 2015).)
Even more important than these literary accomplishments is the sheer beauty of this book as a physical object. It is small and compact. The cover art by Donnie Teodoro is gorgeous (see more of his works at instagram.com/rollingrightinuit). Pascual’s photo in the back cover page vibes Camus. The paper’s fragrance reminds one why we should still buy good books as dead tree books instead of epubs.
It might seem perverse to recommend something so tragic, even though it’s also comic. But just because Pascual’s stories cause so much pain is no reason to find joy in them.