Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review: Rizal Without the Overcoat (Ambeth Ocampo)

Rizal Without the Overcoat (Expanded Edition) Rizal Without the Overcoat by Ambeth R. Ocampo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Between the covers of this book, Jose Rizal suddenly comes alive. You will not hear the usual textbook stories of the moth and the flame, or that old tale of Rizal throwing his remaining slipper into the river after the first one was swept away by the currents, so that whoever finds them will have the complete pair.

This is a book that will tell you that Rizal was kind of funny looking, with a small frame and a rather large head, that he had a lot of girlfriends, and that he even tried hashish 'for experimental purposes'. It gives you a peek into his insecurities and his frustrations, down to the little stories of how he hated tipping because he was so kuripot, or that while he was living abroad, he was too proud to let his landlady find out that he had no more money for food, so he would go out for a stroll every lunch time to give her an impression that he'd gone out to dine.

It's a whole bunch of little stories that show you how Rizal was "just like us".

And then Ocampo takes you through the story behind the "Mi Ultimo Adios", the politics behind the KKK, and a narration of what happened that morning of December 30, 1896.

You take a step back and remember that this is the man who influenced the course of our history and helped solidify our sense of nationhood.

That's when you see that heroes are people who were "just like us".

And it's these people who are more interesting to learn about and learn from, not the mythical heroes we hear about in school. You begin to relate to them, and to wonder what was going through their heads, the emotions raging in their hearts...

This curiosity lead me to read the "Mi Ultimo Adios" with fresh eyes, and I've never found it more beautiful. Now it's challenging me to take a second look at the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo.

If you read "Rizal Without the Overcoat", be prepared to go down the path of rediscovering our national hero, and in turn rediscovering our sense of being Filipino. Trust me, it's more fun this second time around :)

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