Filipino author, video maker and scriptwriter Rey Ventura won the 2015 National Book Award for his third collection of essays, Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami (Ateneo de Manila University Press), but by some strange twist of fate you’ll find very little information on this book. This is a shame because Cherry Blossoms… is a beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking book. These 11 essays, some of them autobiographical, see Ventura travelling back and forth between the Philippines and Japan, his adopted country, often portraying the many ways Filipino lives have been shaped and affected by their rich quasineighbour. Like in “A Suitable Donor,” where the young men who live in the Manila slum of Banseco tell of how they came to “donate” a kidney or another organ to help a rich person in need – often from Japan.
In “Miniskirts and Stilettos” we meet Ginto, a young woman who comes to Japan dreaming of making it big as a singer and entertainer but has to deal instead with a much darker reality; while “Mr. Suzuki Tries Again” and “Into the Snow Country” are tragicomic tales of arranged marriages where the dreams and expectations of bride-starved farmers from Japan’s Deep North clash with those of young Filipino women who want to escape their poverty and go into marriage “as a girl goes into a convent.” Ventura tells these stories with a great eye for detail and manages to find a ray of light even in the darkest corners, or poetry in the midst of a nuclear disaster.
The book’s first essay is called “The Slow Boat to Manila” and, indeed, slowness is the first word that comes to mind when considering Ventura’s approach to writing. Everything Ventura does is slow. That’s the kind of personal commitment and deep connection with his subject that one feels when reading his essays. The book would have certainly benefited from better editing. At 60 pages, for instance, Ventura’s endless mountain climb in Yakushima feels overlong, and he sometimes seems to be too much in love with exclamation marks. But these are only minor faults in an otherwise outstanding work.
The book can be bought here : www.ateneo.edu/ateneopress