I thought that this book would make me endlessly laugh. Also, just like most Filipinos, I always thought that foreign books were far better than local ones even those by our local literary greats. But not for the thought of a person having two navels. I laughed endlessly albeit silently as I grieved about having to realize how much Ive been missing while I prioritize foreign authors in my book choices. This award is the highest national recognition given to Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and to the cultural heritages of the country. However, Connie says that she left the Philippines to run away from her husband because he is having an affair with her mother Senora de Vidal. Joaquins narrative is confusing especially in the first 50 pages of the book due to mixed points of view and multiple flows of thoughts in just one paragraph. I worked for two years in Hong Kong and I thought it would have been more interesting if Joaquin took time to describe his milieu for imagery impact. My first time to read a local book with Hong Kong and Philippines as settings. Joaquins use of his characters to symbolize the bigger scope the Philippines as it is trying to rise from the ashes is astounding and the impact is comparable to the intent that Dr. Jose Rizal probably had when he was writing his Noli and Fili.
Past Engagements (A Book Review of Nick Joaquins The Woman Who Had Two Navels) In 1955, Nick Joaquin left the Philippines on a Rockefeller creative writing grant taking him to countries such as Spain, the United States, and Mexico. As the book progresses we meet these characters at muted wars with themselves and, as if serving like a mirror reflecting Joaquins experiences prior his travels and composition of the novel, it portrays their struggle to keep their identity amidst different cultural point of views. The Woman Who Had Two Navels is a many-layered, chaotic and less-than-prefect novel that taunts out universal paradoxes of truth and falsehood, illusion and reality, past and present by paralleling it to the characters and readers inner turmoil and puts it in the context of the Filipinos search for identity.
Over damp Hong Kong the day dawned drizzling, astonishing with sunshine the first passengers huddled inside the ferries, luring them out on deck to spread cold fingers in the blond air and to smile excitedly (that night was full moon of the Chinese New Year) at the great rock city coming up across the black water, rising so fat and spongy in the splashing light the waterfront's belt of buildings looked like a cake, with alleys cutting deep into the icing and hordes of rickshaws vanishing like ants between the slices. It was also to Hong Kong where General Emilio Aguinaldo (first president of the Philippine Republic), whose image adorned the younger doctor's clinic, went into a short-lived voluntary exile after a political settlement with the Spanish government. Also fleeing to Hong Kong was Connie Escobar, the woman who thought she has two navels. Whereas the elder Monson was haunted by the specter of the past and the shame of discovering its impermanence, a different kind of shame, anatomical in nature, was haunting Connie Escobar. Although meant as a good luck charm, owing to its perpetually smiling face, there was something sinister associated with the Biliken in the novel"an old fat god, with sagging udders, bald and huge-eared and squatting like a buddha; and the sly look in its eyes was repeated by the two navels that winked from its gross belly". Paco, a Filipino-Portuguese, went to work for a while in Manila's entertainment clubs and became entangled with Concha Vidal (La Vidal), Connie's mother. And there's one more soul that's damned." Connie's mother was also in Hong Kong, presumably on business. An obvious meaning of the two navels was Connie's inheritance of a dual identity, her being a child of two worlds, of Spanish and American cultures. Consider a flashback scene near the novel's end, in the final chapter titled "DOCTOR MONSON". Behind him now, like smoky flames in the noon sun, the whole beautiful beloved city, the city that he guarded even now, here on this mountain pass, and for which he had come so far away to dieto the edge of the land, into the wilderness, up the cold soggy mountains of the northand he told himself that, finally, one discovered that one had been fighting, not for a flag or a people, but for just one town, one street, one house; for the sound of a canal in the morning, the look of some roofs in the noon sun, and the fragrance of a certain evening flower. The same images were repeated later in the novel, a kind of closure for the old man as he finally defined his once conflicted nationalism. Nationalism was here depicted as a homage to one's "small private past" and testified by Monson's two sons who will carry on after his death, even if they remains as exiles in Hong Kong. Sionil José's nationalist novel Dusk wherein nationalism was proffered as an inborn "duty".) This scene was a form of making peace with the past, the kind of closure that eluded Connie Escobar. In one of her imagined death scenes, she was arguing with her father, Manolo Vidal, about acceptance and letting go of the past. Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. In addition to the borrowing of novelistic structure of repetition, it anticipated the death scene of old doctor Monson and illuminated the meaning of Connie's (four) death scenes. Four times, the poet urged his father about why he must rage against the dying light, must not go gently with the good night. Connie was with her father on an airplane ("there on the sad height", as in the poem; atop Mount Tirad as in the case of old Monson). In The Woman Who Had Two Navels, as with his only other novel (Cave and Shadows) which appeared more than 20 years later, Joaquín abstracted his ideas on memory and identity and played the devil's advocate on the subject of nationalism.
Macho suggested that they run away together so they could live happily ever after without having to look over their shoulders but Concha could not bring her 9 yrs old daughter with her. Concha said she would go away on her own because she did not want to destroy Connie nor Macho's life and urge him to tell his father that the affair was over. After Escobar died and Concha left him, Macho became the evil landlord like his father and their forefathers before them so that the tenant farmers nothing ever seems to change in which one master is just replaced with someone who is as equally as cruel. Later, she wanted Macho to marry Connie which Concha thought would be the best solution for the both of them. Macho hated Concha for suggesting such a match but married Connie anyway since it was Concha who asked. Only when Macho discovered that Connie knew about the love letters did he realized the magnitude of the betrayal that he shared with Concha against Connie. She also tried to match Macho and Connie because she knew that they would be happy together only to find people thought what she did was depraved. One day while waiting for de Vidal, Paco found Connie and from that moment on wanted her. It was during this time that Connie found the love letters between Concha and Macho and went to her mother's house to confront her. Paco states that both Connie and Senora de Vidal have an evil hold on him and he knows that he will go running to them when they call him. Pepe realized both his father and Paco have a similar traumatized look after they came back from the Philippines. The book starts of with Connie visiting a horse doctor in Hong Kong believing she is abnormal because she has two navels and wants something to be done about it because she does not want to seem like a freak when she has to undress for her husband. According to Senora Vidal, Connie is now chasing a band leader Paco Texeira because she was forced to marry a man she did not love or even choose. Connie runs away to Hong Kong and is followed by her mother and husband. De Vidal matched Connie up with Macho though neither one was in love with the other she gradually grew to like him a lot due to his good humor and good looks. Macho came to Hong Kong to take Connie home so she would not embarrass her politician father during election time by creating a scandal that can hand the opposition gossip as ammunition. When Macho realized he could lose Connie forever due to the love letters, he changed his tune and wanted her back in her own terms no matter how long that took. In April at age 15, Concha met her first husband during a play in which the ambivalent new empire the Americans established tried to censor the theatre as a means for expressing nationalistic sentiments after the Filipino-American war. It was here that Concha met her first love, an Esteban Borromeo who was a former editor of her fathers nationalistic newspaper who was sued by libel because he called the American merchant propping up in the Philippines carpetbaggers. She says perhaps the real reason she married Macho off to Connie was because of the hate she felt for her daughter for preventing her from running off with Macho unlike her superficial reasoning that she did it because she thought they would make a good match. The Monson brothers think that she is using the delusion of having two navels in order to feel unique and disengage from her problematic life including an excuse for not confronting Macho about being her mother's former lover. Connie being a spoiled brat wanted the Biliken idol even going as far as throwing Minnie away and lying about it in order to convince he mother to get Bilikern for her. At age 15 after the war, the Vidals returned to the ruins of their home which Connie did not want to be rebuilt because things can never be what it was. Perhaps she sees her past as horrible which was confirmed with Macho and Concha's affair, she takes on the delusion of having two navels as a way of internalizing her traumatic past transforming her into this horrible monster. She realizes that she lacks free-will and her life has been predetermined from the very beginning despite Macho wanting to break from the past and start anew. When Connie told him that she no longer wanted to be with him, Macho dropped the pretense of free will and said that he, Concha, and Connie will forever be linked. Even though Macho wants to escape so that it is just he and Connie, he knows that Concha presence will always be present. Connie feels that Concha never loved her but just be kind and not hate her just as if she was a step-daughter not her real daughter. Connie wanted to go on pretending that Conch was the perfect mother but she could no longer pretend to love Connie because of the happiness that being with her cost Concha.
The two-naveled woman in question is Connie Escobar, a spoiled, selfish, and delusional Filipina who travels to Hong Kong in search of a treatment for her condition from a horse doctor. Note that there is a moment when Connie relents, much later in the book, but the author thought it would be more meaningful or some shit to fade-to-black at the last possible moment, since it shouldn't fucking matter whether she actually has two navels or not, and the title is supposed to double as a fucking metaphor. Each of their lives will never be the same, and they'll be forced to face the actions of the past, present, and future, regardless of whether these actions were, are, or will be theirs to make.If you beget a monster of a child it could prove you were rather monstrous yourself.But the story truly begins with Concha Vidal, Connie's flighty mother who's experienced much heartbreak and disillusion throughout each era she experiences. When she returns, she asks him to marry her daughter Connie, in order to obtain the happiness of the two people she cares about most in this world."If your hands were not clean, your good actions had grimmer and more relentless consequences than your sins."Unbeknownst to anyone, Connie has been corrupted by her mother's past and this very decision, which leads the little girl on the path to insanity, for lack of a better word. Although they're old, written before she was even born, they contain every excruciating detail of her husband and her mother's past relationship, something they'd kept secret for a very good reason. blank sheet that really only serves to ask Connie questions and inadvertently draw her closer to mess up their lives even further. Following behind is his father Doctor Monson, a demented old man who seeks to go back to the good ol' days by becoming a druggie, and his brother Father Tony, a priest who begins to question if he's cut out for his line of work. People can't be good unless they know they're free to be bad if they wanted to."If this whole thing wasn't a mess already, Connie's narratives get confusing as hell towards the end. They were apart of the past and so needed to be left behind, but I wanted Macho and Connie to ride off into the sunset, especially after Macho confesses that he had grown to love his little wife and forgotten all about her mother, which he'd only realized until that moment. And what the fuck was up with Connie and Doctor Monson having some dipshit, meaningful conversation in his final moments? I felt a burning hatred for every single character and every one of their stupid actions but still, I couldn't, which leaves me to my next point. Perhaps Connie needed to take that idiotic confrontation with Doctor Monson on his deathbed. Perhaps Connie needed to take that *coughs* unconventional step of courage. Perhaps Macho needed to shoot Concha and himself in the fucking head instead of Connie starting over with him and living happily ever after.
Joaquin wrote this on a different time and yet its significance remains to be relevant. Overall, Joaquin's work is worth the pride of the Filipinos.