Daniel Sundar van Ommen
FILI2FF – Final Exam
April 10, 2001
THE WOMAN WHO HAD TWO NAVELS
By Nick Joaquin
"The Woman Who Had Two Navels", by Nick Joaquin, was first published in 1961. The book I read was reproduced in 1991 by Bookmark Inc.
Nick Joaquin, a so-called native "Manileño" (I presume a native resident of Manila), was born in 1917. He came from a prominent family. He got into writing before the world war experimenting with fiction and settled down as a journalist after the war.
He has made a name for himself as a novelist, playwright, historian, biographer, and ever so famous beer drinker.
I decided to read "The Woman Who Had Two Navels" because the author is held in very high regard and this seems to have been one of his most famous works. Also, skimming through the first few pages prior to my purchase of the book, I was impressed by the intensity the author started out his novel enticing me to find out more about this silly woman who had two navels.
The deep profound use of the English language to promote a setting of Filipinos settling in Hong Kong after the war was magnificent. The style was brilliant, the author has a masterful control of the language.
The story begins with Connie Escobar inquiring into Dr. Pepe Monson’s little Hong Kong office seeking for medical help regarding her imaginary two navels. She explained to the doctor about the hardship and frustration of not being accepted as normal because of her extraordinary physical trait. Dr. Pepe at first believed her but was quickly corrected of the Connie’s falsehood through her mother, Concha Videl.
It turns out Connie was running away from her husband, Macho Escobar, after finding out that he used to be her mother’s lover, feeling betrayed and disillusioned from their lies.
Feeling pity and challenged to help the poor girl, Pepe asks Father Tony, his brother, to aid him put some sense and hope into Connie.
Other characters get meddled up in the affair, notably, Paco Texeira. A married man, he left his wife and babies in Hong Kong to work in Manila for a while. During his stay, he became very intimate with Concha Videl who seems to have had a special interest in fine young men. This intimacy was never physical though. However, before his sudden departure from Manila, he caught himself nearly raping Connie in the heat of confusion. Connie had entertained Paco shortly after finding out about her husband’s horrid secret about his unusual relationship with her mother.
Eventually, Connie finds back her will to live on in the midst of a gloomy world, primarily through revelations of truth contributed by Pepe and Father Tony, and through a near-death encounter with her car crashing down a cliff. She decides to run off with Paco to Macao to start a new life.
Tragically however, her mother and her husband (who followed her to Hong Kong) still thinks she had perished and even more tragically ends their lives together. Macho walked into the room of the grieving Concha Videl shooting her several times and eventually shooting himself too.
In the midst of all the madness, another story is quietly told of the father of Pepe and Troy, Doctor Monson. The old, aging, Doctor Monson lived in his dream world escaping reality, what he called a horrible world of "crabs and dust" with his opium to stimulate the fantasy. He had exiled himself from the American controlled Philippines as a stubborn nationalist who pledged never to return until his homeland was free again. Thus, setting the story in Hong Kong with his sons never to have stepped on their native land. When he finally did return to his free country, he was disappointed by the destruction of his expectations, miserably going back to Hong Kong to live as a vegetable. It was only on his deathbed did he realize the foolishness of his fantasy experiencing the brief but true joy of having his sons as shining ornaments in the midst of the dust and crabs.
The story talks about many things: religion, idolatry, adultery, worldliness, acceptance, and bliss to name just a few.
It was rather appalling to read about bizarre relationships such as that of a mother with her son-in-law. But I would not be surprised if that would have gone about in even the strictest and conservative settings such as that of Manila in the early 1900s. People will always have the potential and freedom to indulge in all their lust and wickedness no matter what the rules state.
However, regardless of the morality of the story. The lesson I learned most was that learned by Connie Escobar. That it is an even heavier a sin to lie to one’s own self than to another. The issue is acceptance, of myself, of the world and all its people. That is the starting point to healing and restoration. That is the starting point to the beautiful adventures of life. To deny one’s own filth and existence is to deny to the God who masterfully created that person.
Frankly, I do have tendencies to deny and shun the truth, becoming numb to pain, finding the easier path out. I realize however that it is not healthy however. The story of Connie has given me new hope to what sort of adventures lay ahead in my life.
I am quite glad to have had the opportunity to be educated in the facts of World History narrowed down to facts on Philippine History. It is because I understood the events of the world during the end of the 19th century and the birth of the 20th, that I could have properly understood the setting of the story.
The story has furnished my understanding of life during that era. I know now that people would love to swing and boogie. I know now how the rich and aristocrats faced the world war. I see now the effects of the cultural melting pot that Hong Kong encouraged into molding Filipinos who had never even visited their native land. I see how the freedom fighters of the Revolution had slowly drifted away after the Americans re-engineered Philippine culture. Oh, the list could go on, but the instruction was to put the relationship between this fictional piece of literature, society and people, all in a nutshell.
The literature reflected Nick Joaquin’s history, the era before the 1960s after the world war, an era of rebirth. The society was changing where the old either envied the youth or clung on to their dying glory. The people were even more multi-cultured than ever before, but still as reckless and sinful as ever. The mix of the society and people of the time in that particular setting of Hong Kong was wonderfully reflected in the literature of Nick Joaquin.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel and would recommend it to anyone to promote the wonderful growth of Philippine Literature. I’d say it reflects history and reflects the result of colonial past. It shows a micro picture of how Filipinos could easily adjust to any environment. How their affairs were no different and equally as important as any other white man.
I’d especially recommend the genius of Nick Joaquin’s writing style. The way he could just jump scenes as if it were better than any silverscreen movie is admirable.
"The Woman Who Had Two Navels" is a fine classical contribution not just to the Philippine Literary world, but to all the world’s literature in general that every literary enthusiast must read.