Alex Lacson has produced a novel with a powerful title and an oft-repeated, unteachable lesson. The title is Five Hundred Years without Love (faint echoes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Autumn of the Patriarch?). The lessons are just as unlearnable, with or without the pandemic. Look not for romance here, there’s no la dolce vita in our tropical paradise of 7,600 islands, just a mirror held up to reflect the verities since Magellan landed in Limasawa in 1521.
Reviewers have remarked on the “gripping” strength of the 364-page book, and in my case I felt the grip in my chest and stomach; a physical reaction. It’s a painful book to read. I could not move beyond the first few chapters for an entire week, afraid to encounter the characters in my nightmare. Are they for real? Of course they’re “based on” real people, assembled to resemble facts for a documentary-like narrative straight out of Hades, produced not merely to tell a tale but to whack you on the head if you refuse to recognize fiction as truth.
The book opens with a glaring light beamed on “the worst kind of poverty” – desperate people selling their kidneys and eyes. For years we have heard about this epidemic – there was a docu on the subject – but it’s different when years later, you read the story all alone by yourself, just you and pages of paper, and the truth resurfaces with a punch, because you realize the problem hasn’t gone away after all this time, as you had thought.
From the slums where dwell the colony of organ “donors,” Atty. Hinirang moves to Forbes Park, where he is stopped at the gate by a corps of eight security guards equipped with radios, motorcycles, CCTV cameras, and a dog. Forbes, notes the visitor, is safer than PNP HQ in Camp Crame. After surrendering his driver’s license, he joins his client and a sparkling party of several nationalities (apparently the host is in the business of diplomacy or multinational trade).
The headline of this chapter, “One Country, Two Worlds,” could well be a substitute title for the novel.
Read it not for pleasure. Read it and dare yourself to ask, how did we get here?