The title leaves little room for doubt. Scandalous, intriguing, baring in all possible ways, Sambahin ang Katawan does not hesitate before exposure. It probes the depths of the human body, examining how its history entraps man and how its markings dictate his destiny. In this book as in The Gathering, fate is mapped out on the body. But while the temporal may last only a lifetime, the story it engenders however endures, flung by its irreversibility into a permanence beyond all truth and knowing.
Alvin B. Yapan’s second novel draws together four lives. Jaime Jun, Ria and Maya share a world of overlapping relationships, where the threads of their entanglement erect walls among them and divide their lives into pockets of doubt. Plagued by unshared secrets and propelled by a multitude of desires, they engage in an unmitigated pursuit of pleasure (physical and otherwise), creating ripples that affect each other’s lives in more ways than they imagine.
Various motifs proliferate in this novel. There is the idea of meeting as accident, chance encounter of the flesh, the conflation of desire in a single instant. There is also man’s relationship with the city, where everything is scaled down to the smallest size, necessitating ritual: “Kailangan ang ritwal ng pananahimik, ng pag-alala ng mga petsa ng anibersaryo, ng kaarawan, at ng kung anu-ano pang mga unang dapat huwag kaligtaan upang ipaalalang oo at hindi kailanman kalilimutan ang sinumpaang pagtitinginan.” Apart from this, the novel offers limited character information, allows mere glimpses as brief as its chapters. For here revelation takes place not through narration but through inference. Much more is revealed by way of overlaps in existence.
In this book, the supernatural exists alongside the everyday, thrives in its seeming ordinariness. A man’s history is entwined with that of animals, and a woman’s life changes are heralded by flashes of red. Yet little disbelief accompanied my reading: it was easy to let words carry me into meaning. Admittedly I read very little of Filipino fiction, but every time I come across good writing I realize how some stories can only be told in this language. Sambahin ang Katawan made me feel this very strongly, and it is this that I like most about this book, how it manages to translate life so seamlessly into language. Its words created new space within me. Closing it felt like leaving a world behind.
Gaano man kamahal, wala pa ring lugar para sa nag-iisa.
…hindi maaaring bigyan ng pangalan ang mga lihim na kasiyahan.
Hindi nga naman dapat katakutan ang mga nakakubli dahil may itinatago namang lihim ang lahat ng bagay. Pati ang kaligayahan.
Hindi marahil sapat ang buong buhay upang makilala ang kahit isa man lamang na nilalang.
Mahirap nga naman iwaksi sa katawan ang mga nakasanayan nang pangamba.
Nagtatapos sa akin ang lahat ng mga lihim. Sa akin natatagpuan ng mga lihim ang kanilang huling hantungan.