For the love month, my favorite book club picked this short story as book of the month. Published in 1925, Dead Stars is considered as the “short story that gave birth to modern Philippine writing in English.” The author, Paz Marquez Benitez, “was among the first generation of Filipinos trained in the American education system which used English as the medium of instruction.”
This particular fact can actually be gleaned in the first few pages of the story. Filled with deep, big, at times unnecessary, English words, I cannot help but feel that too much effort has been put in making use of every English word that the author has learned. Still, putting into context that this story was written at a time when Filipinos have started to learn the American language, the adeptness of the author in applying what she has learned is at least worthy of appreciation. Of course, literary styles have evolved since then and the verbose style in Dead Stars might not be that attractive anymore to contemporary readers.
The story evolves around Alfredo, Esperanza, and Julia, and the complications of love and feelings, old and new, that surround them. Alfredo is soon to wed his long-time fiancee, Esperanza. He meets Julia and immediately believes he has fallen in love with her. But conventions require him to restrain such unwelcome emotions and so he proceeded to marry Esperanza. For eight years, Alfredo yearned for Julia and his long-lost love for her. Told in the point of view of Alfredo, Dead Starsis not a difficult read. It is straightforward and honest, and though I do not entirely agree with what Alfredo did (and did not do), I am quite familiar with the confusions surrounding love and relationships. After all, who can fully understand one’s feelings?
I am of the belief that Alfredo is suffering from cold feet — that certain feeling of indecision common among would-be married couples. But I do not believe that he is in love with Julia. Infatuation, yes. The momentary excitement of meeting someone new. A longing for something (or someone) he cannot have. I am a staunch believer in love strengthened and nurtured by time and that is what Alfredo and Esperanza have. Whatever feelings Julia might have stirred in him, I can not, will not, call it love.
Too much time and effort were wasted by Alfredo in thinking about Julia all these time he was married to Esperanza. And even though it might not be outright cheating, or unfaithfulness, on his part, I have every reason to believe that Esperanza knew about Julia, and for that, I feel sorry for her. And angry on Alfredo. This man just can not make up his mind! He has a lot of what-ifs!
And the ending is just right. I cannot help but give a snort of laughter at Alfredo. Serves him right for pining over a woman he should not have any business dealing with in the first place. DUH.
For its literary value and recognition, Dead Stars deserves a higher rating. I have a feeling this short story can evoke several interesting topics to discuss on. Catch our book club’s Face-to-Face discussion this February 24, 2013, 4-8PM, at Q. Bistro, The Malayan Plaza, Ortigas Center, Pasig, or join in our online discussion at this thread.
My copy: ebook. (Also available here).