Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Listening to Books

I have been listening to books non-stop since moving here, taking advantage of my commute time to and from the office; as listening is more efficient than reading plus saving one’s eyesight. I also bring audio books with me on my vacation or business travels, listening while on the plane or during road trips. This brings interesting memories of my trips that merge with the surrounding scenery and with the story that I was listening to at that time. For instance, I listened to Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ while driving along the Pacific Coast highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles so memories of the highway, the mountain side roads and sheer cliffs, the ocean, lonely roads and bridges;  are linked with Kerouac’s story and vice versa. Similarly, recalling Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Enchantress from Florence’ brings to mind the desert between Flagstaff, Arizona and Los Angeles as I was listening to this book while driving home with my family after a visit to the Grand Canyon.

My daily commute is suffused with my images of scenes in  the recent books I read: Ha Jin’s ‘A Free Life’ and ‘A Good Fall’, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Angel’s Game’ and Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s ‘The Storyteller of Marrakesh.’ Ha Jin is a particular pleasure as he writes about the immigrant experience especially the Chinese of running small restaurants in strip malls in the South like his hero depicted in ‘A Free Life’ who managed a restaurant in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. Since reading his book, I can no longer look at these Chinese restaurants the same way, as if a curtain has been lifted and I could envision the owner’s struggles as they work hard for a new life in the US. Since coming over I have been sensitive to stories of immigrant experience that I have enjoyed stories by Jumpa Lahiri in the ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ or watching the movie ‘The Namesake’ adapted from her book.

Recently, I bought a couple of books by Carlos Bulosan who also wrote about his migrant experience in ‘America is in the Heart’, a book mentioned by Ha Jin in one of his short stories in ‘A Good Fall’. Bulosan maybe one of the first writers to write about the Asian experience of moving to the US, probably the first writer of Asian migration as previous stories should be the Chinese coolies who were ‘Shanghaied’ to the West Coast to work on the railroads. But the Chinese workers often dream of returning home to China and, more often than not, do so but a considerable number remain as seen in the large Chinatowns like in San Francisco. Nevertheless, the cultural tendency of the Chinese would be to lie low and continue speaking their language and remain below the surface considering the racist attitudes of the time. On the other hand, Filipino immigrants would be versed in English and steeped in the lessons of American individualism and Hollywood movies to be confident in expressing themselves.

I also bought Carlos Romulo’s book ‘I saw the fall of the Philippines’, a work I enjoyed being a first-hand account of the fall of Manila, an articulate narrative from a reporter who eventually became the head of the United Nations. I have been buying a lot of books by Filipino authors but had not read them yet but most seem to have a tinge of internationalism. For instance, ‘Global Filipino’ by Jose De Venecia, an autobiography of Jose Rizal and the novel ‘Illustrado’ which all have stories of foreign travel and experience. Perhaps that’s the story that needs to be told of my country – a travel abroad to find oneself because circumstances are not right for self-discovery and growth back home. It’s only when one travels that one develops especially coming from a third-world country. It’s sad that most Filipiniana books are not available as audio books so one needs to visually read them.

No comments: