Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Review: 'Pagpag: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora' by Eileen R. Tabios

Pagpag by Eileen R. Tabios

Insights into life in the Philippines

Author/poet Eileen R. Tabios is one of the more adventuresome and truly creative artists before the public today. Born in the Philippines, she moved to the United States at age 10, earned her BA in political science from Barnard College and an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. One of her most celebrated gifts is her ability to write poems in the usual styles and make her works resonate with every reader. But she always is searching for ways to push the use of words into formats or situation that challenge the brain as well as heart. She makes us think: she makes us work. In this new impressive book, Eileen presents another aspect of her word sculptures - her short stories that open a new window into her talent.

The title of this collection – PAGPAG – is a Tagalog term for leftover food from restaurants scavenged from garbage site and dumps. PAGPAG is a series of short stories that relate the trauma that Philippine citizens witnessed and endured under the country’s colonial governments and postcolonial dictators. The world may know the name and reputation of Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the islands from 1965 to 1986, but until now few of us understood the tragic effects Marcos’ regime had on the lives of Filipinos.

Between 1995 and 2001 Eileen wrote protest stories against Marcos’ martial law, and now she shares those stories and more with her readers, revealing the horrendous conditions as viewed through children’s eyes. Noting that these stories are reflections of an ‘ex-patriot’ gives a new insight into the history of the political climate as viewed from afar – a more insightful blend of memory and history that makes her stories all the more compelling. Hunger in the face of the need to scavenge for discarded food, the need to change, moments of introspective humor – all these tales add to the impact of this excellent collection of short stories.

Eileen R Tabios continues to grow as an artist of multiple rare gifts. Highly recommended for all readers. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.