Review of Yvette Tan’s Waking the Dead


Among one of my most recent book buys is one by a local writer and journalist, Yvette Tan, entitled Waking the Dead, a collection of short stories about humanity’s struggles and horror against both monsters lurking in the dark and those born from an abusive relationship.

Waking the Dead, and other stories – Yvette Tan

Quite in the tradition of such renowned names such as Nick Joaquin, she sets the stories within the Philippines, with its folklore and wonder coming to life in awe-inspiring, and at many times, terrifying, ways into its inhabitants’ lives. But, diverging from tradition, she masterfuly weaves a mythology of her own, but still keeping true to her patently filipino style of writing.

Each story is a panorama of emotions set in a dream-like landscape of child-like awe. Everything is similar to how you remeber them, but still new. Such is looking at the world through a child’s eyes. The sense of wonder springing from discovering how much you really didn’t know.

And the gretest fears also come from not knowing.

It is also interesting to note is one story that put her, the writer, into one of the narratives.I’m not sure if this was a true-to-life account of a supernatural experience, or if it was one of those tall tales people are sometimes fond of teling. I’d be sure to ask her if I ever get the chance.

The characters were all inherently broken inside, whether it is the slow internal erosion caused by a dysfunctional relationship, or mourning over the loss of one’s beloved wife. It moves them into situations resulting in some of the most moving emotional conflicts I’ve read in a long time. Whether or not they are aware of it, they seem to know deep in their hearts that nothing is in the heavens or upon the earth that would save them, maybe except for themselves. Despite that, they still strive and struggle against whatever it is before them, this grim resolution to continue making this book one worth the time to read.

It explores some very sensitive topics like same sex relationships, illegal drugs, murders and child abuse, weaving the awe and horror of the world around them into their own dire situations.

Fade to Nothing, one of the more emotionally intense stories of the lot.

Another theme in particular that got my attention was the treatment it gave to the concept of salvation in two stories in particular, The Child Abandoned and Sidhi. The first explores how the legend of the Sta. Teresa, the child Abandoned, was formed, and how she initiated the Change, the great watery cataclysm that resulted in the cleansing of the Pasig River, destruction of the Black Nazarene and the crossing over of the Fae-folk into our world.

This story in particular treated the concept of salvation as an internal overhaul of destructive actions and habits, using the filthy Pasig River as a metaphor. That in the flushing out the trash and the destruction of long-held dogmas and beliefs, and letting the Change take you with it, and just going with its will, the world will become a more exciting place filled with wonder and awe.

Then, there was Sidhi, meaning Intense in Filipino, a story about Noah, called the Dreamer, a man who can supposedly bring temporary Salvation to those who can find him, and that of Jan the woman from whose point of view the story was told, living in the shadow of the one who can bring man and women to the stars and the depths of the void using his mind. Salvation on Earth.

It was the eve of the Feast of Sta. Teresa, a night where people came to both become cleansed as the Saint did to the river, and wallow in the mire of both human and non-human carnality. It was in many ways, a cautionary tale to accompany the message of The Child Abandoned. That temporary salvation was not salvation at all, as shown in the scene where Jan fled from Noah during the high point of the Dreamer’s spell, where she discovered that Noah’s already sanity has failed along with the steady decline of his health.

All in all, the entire book, in all its simplicity, leads the reader on a dreamy tour of landscapes and cityscapes similar to ours, but with wonder and terror just waiting to be discovered. It was a worthwhile reading and I recommend this book to anyone who wants a good book about night stalkers and fairies, giants kapres who’ve given up smoking, and widowers waking the dead, all while keeping a grim sense of realism and somber social awareness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s