Resurrecting long-forgotten histories through fiction

FOR FILIPINA fictionist Linda Ty-Casper, preserving part of history in the form of historical novels is a kind of advocacy. It defends the Philippines from false depictions and ensures that “we do not forget who we are.”

This is why her book, The Three-Cornered Sun, first published by New Day Publishers in 1979 and now re-published by local press Exploding Galaxies, treats history as more than just a backdrop. Set in the 1896 revolution against Spain, the story is based on recollections of the author’s own grandmother, Gabriela Paez Viardo de Velasquez.

It follows the lives of the members of the Viardo family as they go through that tumultuous moment in history, sometimes on opposing sides. National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana, in a review of the first edition, called it “a remarkable work that must rank with the finest fiction in English Filipinos have ever produced.”

But many Filipino readers nowadays barely know Ms. Ty-Casper and her work. Enter Exploding Galaxies, a relatively new publishing house that focuses on republishing out-of-print contemporary Philippine literature, with the goal of reviving lost classics.

“From the moment I read the first lines, the novel felt like it was history breathing and I think that’s what really drew me in,” Exploding Galaxies publisher Mara Coson told BusinessWorld shortly after the book launch on March 16, held at Everything’s Fine bookstore in Makati City.

The novel has the ability to make you feel like 1896 is about to happen right in front of you, Ms. Coson said, simply because of the extensive research.

“It knew exactly where in time it wanted to take its readers back to. I never saw Philippine history quite in that way before,” she added.

Ms. Ty-Casper, now 90 years old and living in Massachusetts, writes in the preface of the new edition, “I didn’t think there were any new readers for it. I’ve never been widely read, for some reason, but I persisted in writing about us, to fill the absence of our side.”

In the year 2024, the Filipino side of history that she talks about is in danger of being forgotten back home, hence Exploding Galaxies’ existence.

“Before we consider our lack of presence everywhere else, I think it starts with discovering these on our own shelves,” Ms. Coson said via e-mail. “So, yes to filling the absence, but here most of all — in bookshops, more libraries, and our conversations.”

For National Artist for Literature Gemino H. Abad, the ground of language shaped by Ms. Ty-Casper is “a people’s culture through their history.”

“She forges her own path through a given language’s lexical wilderness and makes her own clearing there,” he writes in praise of her work.

As for the role of presses like Exploding Galaxies, Ateneo Press, and Anvil Publishing House, to name a few that partake in the revival of overlooked literary works, the need for their advocacy is as urgent as ever.

“Any country is only as good as its system of education, as the knowledge held by its people,” he told BusinessWorld at the book launch. “It’s all about reading, thinking. We human beings, it is our human nature to know the truth.”

Ms. Coson added that there is a long way to go for this new edition of The Three-Cornered Sun, as well as for the first ever book that they re-published last year, Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s 1970 postmodern war novel But for the Lovers.

“I’ve been thankful for the reception that it’s received, but there’s more that needs to be done to open the book up,” she said.

Meanwhile, she teased that next two books in Exploding Galaxies’ lineup will be short story collections. “The series will not always be time traveling back to key moments in history. We will also publish books whose authors were writing about their contemporary times, even if that’s 20, 30, 40 years ago.”

The Three-Cornered Sun is available in Fully Booked, National Bookstore, and select bookstores including Everything’s Fine in Makati and Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio, as well as in online marketplaces Shopee and Lazada. — Brontë H. Lacsamana