Francisco Sionil Jose, great voice of the Philippines, is dead

Filipino writer Francisco Sionil Jose died Thursday at the age of 97 in a Manila hospital just before undergoing an operation, the Philippine branch of PEN Club International said on its Facebook page.

Born in Rosales, a small town in Pangasinan Province, on December 3, 1924, Pablo Neruda Award winner (2004) and Knight of Arts and Letters (2000), he was the most widely read Filipino author of his generation. Writing in English, he has been translated into twenty-eight languages, including French.

A man all round, warm, with biting irony and bursts of loud laughter, he crossed the past century by espousing the hopes and disillusionments of his country: from resistance to the Japanese occupation with the Huks guerrillas (abbreviated of Hukbalahap, People’s Army against the Japanese formed in March 1942 by peasants from the center of the island of Luzon), under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986). Then it was the flights of hope of the people power revolution which brought Cory Aquino to power in 1986 and the bitter disappointments that followed.

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Reclaiming the identity of a colonized people

All the work of Francisco Sionil Jose is devoted to the reconquest of the identity of a people colonized by the Spaniards then by the Americans and, finally, betrayed by its elite. A people whose strength – and weakness – is to have always known how to laugh at itself … but who is “ also inhabited by endurance pegged to the body, great generosity and an unwavering quixoticism He said.

His childhood had been difficult. His family, of the Ilocanos ethnic group (north of Luzon), stripped of their land by large landowners, migrated to different regions of the main island of the Philippine archipelago. This tossed around adolescence made him discover what misery and injustice were. Devouring the writings of José Rizal, novelist and poet, activist for independence from the Spanish yoke, shot in 1896 at the age of 35, the young Francisco was also passionate about Faulkner and Steinbeck. After college, he began a career as a journalist in Manila and founded a small publishing house.

Novelist, journalist, committed man… Francisco Sionil Jose was an essential figure for all those who, artists, writers or journalists took an interest in the Philippines during the past half-century. Frankie, as his friends called him, was inexhaustible on the history and culture of his country. He entertained in a tiny office perched at the top of a spiral staircase above the small bookstore, Solidaridad, which he had opened in 1965, in the Ermita neighborhood, in the heart of old Manila. During the Marcos dictatorship, Solidaridad had become the meeting point for intellectuals and politicians who exchanged ideas around the round table on the first floor. Quite naturally, the bookstore was the first seat of the Philippine PEN Club, an association for the defense of authors threatened by their ideas and writings.

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Francisco Sionil Jose, great voice of the Philippines, is dead

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