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24 May 2013

Manila is the "Gates of Hell," and Dan Brown is Albert Camus


Manila is the "Gates of Hell” as described in Dan Brown’s latest novel “Inferno.” Well, of course Manila is the “Gates of Hell!” My goodness, we do not need a third rate best selling opportunistic author to tell us that.  (I should know, I am a third rate writer myself)

Image part of public domain. 
Taken from Wikipedia. Medieval 
illustration of Hell in the Hortus 
deliciarum manuscript of 
Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180)
Firstly, countless outstanding deceased native writers had already described Manila as a something resembling a portal to Abaddon, if not the actual place itself. Secondly, we Filipinos have lived here all our lives; we do not need to state the obvious. We saw hell. We unwittingly bought houses there. Our children go to school there. Some of us try to change it to paradise. Others contribute to the continuing "demonization" while others have valiantly wage war against hell’s minions. Sadly, others have given up the fight.  Some are still in denial while others look up to heaven for some temporary respite or salvation. 

In fact, Manila natives have just recently elected a former president convicted of economic plunder as its mayor. The losing candidate is not a peach either.  On top of that, this newly elected hell gatekeeper is reputed, allegedly, to have countless mistresses and had been videotaped drunk in a casino while still president.  If Satan is not at work in this beloved country of mine then Buddha invented the Big Mac.  (I can afford a Buddhist joke because I am Buddhist). 

As always, the Philippines is an easy target in the world of entertainment. We are powerless in the might of commerce and not even our world famous hospitality, cheerfulness and compassion can withstand the lure of controversy to amass money.  I am certain Dan Brown could have chosen other cities in the world to be the site for hell’s portal. After all, Manila does not have monopoly on poverty and crime. But then again, readers of literature written in English may be tired of the usual sites of dearth and damnation, they want fresh cities and Manila is the “city du jour” in fiction.   For example, Alex Garland wrote about street children, mothers, gangster and other characters in Manila in his 1998 novel “The Tesseract.”  A quick trip to your local bookstore and you can find two or three novels written by foreigners about Manila or the Philippines.  Usually, the story is magical, zany, depressing, horrifying, disturbing, shocking and largely unconventional.  Perhaps in the eyes of foreign writers, including Filipino Anglo-Saxons writers, (I can’t believe I used “Anglo-Saxons”) Manila may be turning into a “literary city littered with a myriad of interesting characters.”  Perhaps, the “fictional Manila” has nothing to do with the real Manila. Well, only those who chose to live here permanently can answer that. Other writers can just write about us, sell their books and pray that Tom Hanks is available to star in the movie version. Hey, the Philippines is a free country until you hit a nerve of a rich person or a powerful politician. 

If Dan Brown’s “Inferno” is as brilliant as his “Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” then I will suggest that you spend your hard-earned peso somewhere else. Buy Alexander Yates’ “Moondogs” instead.  Yates presented a more vivid and accurate description of Manila in his novel.  The story features a rooster, policemen with superpowers, a (shabu) meth-addled taxi driver, an actor-turned politician and many more.  Those who have read this novel attested to the writer’s wit, and they swore that a native Filipino could have written this novel. 

Frankly speaking, we Filipinos have more reasons to be angry about than get upset about Mister Dan Brown.  We should just ignore him, after all, he cannot hear us because he is laughing boisterously all the way to the bank, and I can assure you that he is not heading to the Philippine National Bank!

Curiously, only the Western-educated Filipinos will be upset about "Inferno," ang karamihan ng mga mahihirap na mamamayan ng impyerno ay gahol sa pagtratrabaho, pag-aalaga ng kanilang mahal na anak, kapatid, magulang at asawa.  Ang iba naman ay hindi pa rin  natatanggap na kahit natapos na ang eleksyon, wala pa rin silang nakikitang pagbabago sa "Tarangkahan ng Impyerno."

UPDATE: June 5, 2013

In Dan Brown’s “Inferno,” Sienna Brooks, one of the main characters in the book, quickly left the Philippines after she had a terrible experience and was even almost raped. Recently, an American tourist was gang raped in India.  Prior to that, a Swiss woman was also gang raped.  Now here is the catch. India and the Philippines both have population and poverty problems.  In fact, India has a population of more than 1 billion.  If Dan Brown’s point is to focus on overpopulation, corruption and poverty, why didn’t he choose a city in India, or even a city in China, or a city in Latin America?  Simple.  India has a bigger book market than the Philippines. If Dan Brown’s “Inferno” will also be translated into Spanish or Chinese, Dan Brown will have two additional big pools to dip his now golden pen.  Manila is the safe choice, marketing wise.  Relatively speaking, few Filipinos read English books, and we do not translate English books into Filipino. Ergo, Dan Brown will just piss a few English-literate Filipinos, and even spark some curiosity, which actually happened because sales of Dan Brown’s book had a 50% increase in the Philippines as reported in “The Wall Street Journal.” Sardonically, some Filipinos who became curious about “Inferno” quickly went to their favorite vendors and bought illegally downloaded digital copies of “Inferno,” for a mere 50 pesos (about $1.20) The Muse of Comedy and the God of Irony are laughing while sipping their cups of English breakfast and chamomile tea.

Like many Filipinos, I am certain that many Indians are also appalled by crimes being committed in their country.  But the actions of a few people do not represent the entire nation.  India has always been one of my favorite countries and I wish I to travel there if I had enough money.  

In the end, Dan Brown's "Inferno" is all about the money.  

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