DEAD STARS/Paz Marquez Benitez

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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?

***SPOILER ALERT***

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.

***SPOILER ENDS***

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.

4 stars.

My copy: ebook. (Also available here).

 

8 thoughts on “DEAD STARS/Paz Marquez Benitez

  1. Hi, just dropping by!

    Benitez’ Dead Stars is one of the foundational texts in Philippine literature during the American occupation. And it is very interesting to note the distinct style that can be found in this story and its contemporaries (you have noted about the ‘verbose style’). Gemino Abad put this story under the period of apprenticeship for Phillipine writing in English and I cannot disagree when he traces that promise our writers already exhibited at the inception of cultivating a literature on a foreign language. As a writer in English, I am so proud and happy that ever since Dead Stars, we have come so far as to hone the English language in our ‘native clearing,’ and continually adapt and mold it according to our changing sensibilities and experiences. 🙂

    1. Hi Ivan! That’s why I did not hesitate in giving it a higher rating because I appreciate the author’s easy way of making use of the English language, putting into context the period within which the story was written.

      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  2. I chanced upon your site as I was looking for a pdf copy of Dead Stars and found it amusing that we have almost similar book roll..definitely looking forward to more of your posts!

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