This novel based on the author’s life delves behind the scenes of a dramatic conflict between academic integrity and political machinations on a college campus in the Philippines in 1986.
After a regime change, the faculty and students of Metro Cuidad Polytechnic College organize a fierce protest when the unqualified Esteban Barrado is appointed college president, replacing their adored Officer in Charge, Moises Granada. Over 38 tense, action-packed days, Granada is caught up in the fervor and despair of the protesters staging marches, walk-outs, and alternate classes. While Granada tries to effect a smooth takeover, Barrado insists on taking control by violent means if necessary, and attempts to build alliances fail as authorities prove curiously reluctant to step in.
The story’s tension builds nicely when the focus is on Granada, a moral man who wants what’s best for the college, but jumps in viewpoints and abrupt cuts from scenes to reports of letters and news bulletins downshift the momentum. The narrator’s clear delineation of protagonist and villain steers readers’ loyalties when a more nuanced view might have provided interest.
Pictures from the event upon which the novel is based enhance the reader’s understanding of the main conflict but thin the illusion of fiction, and a knowledge of Filipino politics is needed in some parts to fully grasp why the characters behave as they do.
General readers may find themselves awash in the large cast of characters, especially when it’s not always clear who is talking. The details of Filipino culture and use of native language add texture and immediacy, although frequent grammatical errors can be distracting.
Nonetheless, Granada is an appealing character and the action is gripping enough to draw readers along as the conflict progresses to its final twist. While uneven, the novel, published posthumously by Melchizedek Maquiso’s family, feels like the author’s chance to finally clear the air on a crucial event in his life and reanimates a fascinating moment in Filipino history.