National artist F. Sionil Jose’s book ‘Poon’ translated to Dutch

Jofelle P. Tesorio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2020 03:31 PM

THE HAGUE - After the translations of Noli Me Tangere (‘Raak Me Niet Aan’) and El Filibusterismo (‘De Revolutie: Een Filipijnse Roman’) into Dutch, translator and publisher Gerard Arp has just finished a work from Philippine national artist F. Sionil Jose.

“Where Jose Rizal's novels end, F. Sionil Jose continues with the story of the Philippines,” Arp said in a recent exclusive online interview with ABS-CBN.

In Jose’s novel ‘Poon’ or ‘dusk’ (titled ‘Schemering’ in Dutch), the protagonist Eustaquio Samson, a farm boy with big dreams, leads his family as they flee Spanish colonizers. In a different locale, the Samsons try to build a new life.

The saga is set with important historical events in the background, including the death of Jose Rizal, the movement for independence, and the occupation of the Americans.

But it is because of Apolinario Mabini that Samson accidentally gets involved in the struggle for independence. At some point in the novel, he faces the choice between war and nonviolence, between the duty to his family or to his country.

For Arp, ‘Poon’ is an epic about the inner struggle and the eternal struggle for survival.

‘Poon’ is Jose’s first book in The Rosales Saga, five novels, that encompass a hundred years of Philippine history. Arp intentionally chose ‘Poon’ to follow the translations of Rizal’s novels because it was set in the period after the time of Rizal, the end of the Spanish era and the fight for independence against the Americans. 

“For me, that was important because it is, in a way, a continuation of Rizal’s novels… In his novels, F. Sionil José describes the history and life in the Philippines in a very moving and personal way,” he said.

Asked whether Poon was relatable to the current situation in the Philippines, the Dutch translator said the “the book shows that sometimes people get involved in affairs that are bigger than their community.” 

In a time when Filipinos are reading less, especially Jose’s novels, Arp said the Dutch can still resonate with his books. “Like most good novels, the reader can identify himself with the feelings of the main character, the hero of the book, and with the choices he has to make. Even if this novel is set in another time and place, I think F. Sionil Jose’s novels accomplish that.”
 
A well-respected novelist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Arts, Jose has stirred controversy with his comments on the current Philippine situation. Arp said “even at the age of 95, F. Sionil Jose still expresses his feelings and opinions in his blogs. He has never been hiding his convictions, for example that a ‘revolutionary’ change is necessary. Even though his opinions may be controversial, I think that his own words about writing are right.” Quoting Jose, Arp said: “Life is not a simple matter of black and white, of right and wrong. In between is a huge gray area — a limbo, an uncharted territory wherein we live.”
 
When asked how he sees the position of Jose’s work in the broader picture of post-colonial literature, Arp said “history always plays a role in the background, but the themes of his novels are very universal…But in the end, the question is where your loyalty is, with your own family, with existing powers, or with the higher goal of freedom as a people and a nation.” 
 
Depending on how the Dutch reading public receives ‘Poon’, Arp said working on the translations to complete The Rosales Saga is the plan. The last two novels of The Rosales Saga were already translated to Dutch in the 1980s.

 ‘Schemering’, 292 pages, paperback, is available in online bookshops in The Netherlands and Belgium.