Since August is Buwan ng Wika in the country, the book club chose to read Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, a Filipino writer based in London.
There is a lot to learn from Tall Story despite being a short read. The themes are close to home — and to the heart, as it tells about long distance family relationships, sibling rivalries, friendship, and basketball — all interspersed with Philippine folklore.
After waiting for too long, Bernardo finally sets foot in London. His mother and his sister, Andi, are likewise excited to meet him and when they did, they were surprised. Because Bernardo is tall, as in 8-feet tall. And he has dizzying and fainting spells. What could be wrong with him? As it turns out, he has gigantism but his townmates back home believe otherwise. They believe that he is Bernardo Carpio reincarnate and his leaving the town will bring curses and bad fortune to the people there. If you are Bernardo, what will you do?
I first read about the story of Bernardo Carpio when I was in grade school. His story was one of the readings we had then and I remember being fascinated with this giant who can move two mountains apart. Reading Tall Story brings back fond memories of times when my siblings and I would sit around our great-grandfather and listen to him tell of stories which are reminiscent of the folklore being mentioned in the book.
What I love about the book is its simplicity. The narrative flows easily and the characters are easy to fall in love with. The chapters are simultaneously told in Bernardo and Andi’s voices, and they give me a chance to look at things through their own perspectives. Bernardo’s longing to be with his mother is easily identifiable as it is commonplace in this country where its citizens have to go abroad to work and provide for the family. It’s a good thing that Bernardo isn’t maltreated by those who were left to care for him while his mom is away. In fact, Bernardo is well-loved by his neighbors because they believe him to be the reason why earthquakes and disasters no longer visit their town.
Andi. I understand her apparent insecurity over Bernardo. If Bernardo loves basketball, Andi is passionate about it. It is not surprising, then, if she suddenly feels threatened by the basketball-friendly height of her brother. It is lovely to learn about how Andi will finally develop her bond with Bernardo.
The folklore aspect of the story is charming. It reminds me of those afternoon soap operas on TV about fantasy and magic and mythical creatures. I won’t be saying anything more to avoid being spoilery but suffice it to say that Miss Gourlay has definitely made Filipino folklore more entertaining and informative in a non-academic way.
Tall Story is actually predictable. There are no surprising plot twists here to baffle the mind. But, as I’ve said, I like its simplicity and straightforward manner of sending the message across: that the love of the family and friends will make you feel strong and stand tall amidst the circumstances.
My copy: paperback published by Cacho Publishing, Inc.