Blowin in the Wind by Nina Somea
The Winds of April
by NVM Gonzalez
Despite the honors it received in the 1941 Commonwealth Literary Awards, NVM Gonzalez’s autobiographical novel, The Winds of April did not enjoy the initial popularity that his other works did. It was the onset of World War II that left many readers unable to appreciate the insights of the literary master’s debut since the fury of the war destroyed majority of its copies. Only a few libraries and individuals were lucky enough to avail and keep for themselves the rare copies of Gonzalez’s first major literary feat. As Philippine Studies Scholar Augusto Espiritu expressed in the introduction of the text, “The book’s unavailability ... has up to now precluded a fuller study of Gonzalez’s intellectual history and literary accomplishments.”
Though Gonzalez started to write during the 30s his works got published only after the war and therefore belong to the postwar circle of writers along with Carlos Bulosan and Bienvenido Santos.
In 1997, the ageless icon had what can be considered a milestone by many. He earned the National Artist for Literature. Perhaps it is in the celebration of his timeless achievement that some of his forgotten works make their reappearance. Aside from the Winds of April, Work on the Mountain and A Grammar of Dreams and Other Stories were also reprinted.
Winds of April starts with the narrator recounting his early years in Mindoro and Romblon. Acquainted with two languages and cultures, Tagalog and Visayan, it is the water that separates these two places that is closest to his heart. His numerous travels, however, bridges the distance. In one of his visits to Romblon, his grandmother, Mamay, entrusts him the money she and her husband Tomas have earned. “Take this with you .... when you reach the city, work and study hard... all your Papa Tomas and I wish for is to see that you become somebody,” the old woman says. The subject, in turn, vows to do so. He studies from one town to another, from Wasig to Mansalay to Calapan, in Mindoro, then to Agbuyog in Romblon. Wandering to several other towns, he finally ends up in Manila. The fulfillment of his promise haunts his mind. He arrives in Manila with high hopes. He further enriches himself intellectually as opportunity allows.
As turbulent as the winds can be, at times he finds himself stuck in one place and unable to harness the fulfillment of his dreams. But like an outrigger, he manages to keep himself afloat in the midst of troubled waters, waiting for the wind to calm down and to embark on new beginnings while hanging on to old dreams.
Just like Gonzalez’s other works, a substantial part of the story revolves around the countryside. The rustic landscape and the local color that Gonzalez uses mirrors the Filipinos and the growing rejection of American predominance at the height of the Commonwealth era, a time when the Philippines was still seeking its independence from the United States. Born in Romblon and raised in Mindoro, it is no wonder why towns and the typical rural folks in these provinces appear throughout Gonzalez’s works such as A Season of Grace, Look, Stranger on this Island Now, Work on the Mountains, and Mindoro and Beyond.
As he struggles in the sea of life, trying to find a better way of survival, the narrator also encounters love interests. Romance saturates the text. In every encounter, the subject almost always utters the passage “I want to kiss you,”. An overly high degree of emotional outburst can be noticed, an idiosyncratic characteristic of prewar literary works. Other prewar novels such as Zoilo M. Galang’s A Child of Sorrow and Juan C. Laya’s His Native Soil, also have strong love elements. As poetess and critic Ophelia Dimalanta said in her book Philippine Contemporary Literature in English: Tradition and Change, “this love motif ran through almost all Filipino novels prior to the war.”
It is probably in this aspect that the generation of today might be able to relate to. Passionate and emotional, the subject searches for extraordinary affection, perhaps as a refuge from the bondage of his tiring struggle.
The text also showcases a father-son relationship. Though both of them exert undying efforts to have a comfortable life, fate rewards them with different outcomes. While the son is triumphant in the city, the father remains unsuccessful. It somehow reveals the immense optimism and vitality in the early years and the brittleness that dawns in old age. One can also perceive the transfer of power and strength from the father to the son as dictated by time. In the end, the grateful son and the father, who loves his son so much and who failed in his ventures, together figure out what to do next. The youthful optimism of the son provides hope for the father.
The Winds of April provides an atmosphere of youth and an eagerness for life. It shares the passion and desire for a life so free and full of promise. On he contrary, it also depicts a diligent craving for a decent living, which unfortunately yields poor results. Unpredictable sometimes are the winds, leaving one gliding through an unfathomable future. But there are also times when the winds steer one to an almost unobscured light.
As literary works made before the outbreak of the war have earned a distinction of being too sentimental and somewhat inept in the use of English, which was new at that time, Winds of April, which was published in 1940 may not be an exemption. One would notice how a budding writer stretches simple thoughts through the pages. One may even get lost as to whose character the narrator is referring to. Also, there are some native words that the author uses such as patading, tuba and duyong which sounds peculiar to many readers, particularly the non-Visayans. The text is littered with adjective-bloated lines like “Oh, that little sweet potato-shaped island where I was born!” and “A naked electric bulb atop a tall black electric post provides illumination in Uncle Zeke’s little street-and alley, others have called it.”
Once buried with the debris and the memories of a devastating war, The Winds of April is now making its comeback with high hopes of retrieving the appreciation it lost over time. As Esparto noted, “the work demands an audience history hitherto denied it.” Time can only tell if it is worth the wait.
Source: First published in the Philippine Collegian, “Book Reviews,” November 23, 1998