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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


F. Sionil José

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To purchase Sins

Title: Sin
Author: F. Sionil José
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 172 pages
Availability: Sins - US
Sins - UK
Sins - Canada
  • Originally published as: Sin
  • US title: Sins

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Our Assessment:

B : well-written but odd mix of a story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Fall/1996 Paul Sharrad

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite its title, there is not a lot of excitement or angst in Sins. (...) Unfortunately, Sins lacks either atmosphere or new and significant content. (...) Basically, it is the personal memories and prejudices of one man whose single-minded pursuit of wealth renders him fundamentally one-dimensional. (...) Don Carlos comes across as a matter-of-fact egotistical snob, and his life story is little more than a catalogue of sexual conquests, gourmet meals, and tourist vignettes. The plainness of the tale is not helped by its construction as a series of digressions and "Let me again be immodest" pontifica6tions. Most interesting is the picture and defense of a history, of opportunistic collaborations by the mestizo land-owning and big-business class." - Paul Sharrad, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sin -- republished then in a US edition as Sins, because more is apparently better ... -- is narrated by Carlos Cobello. Now dying, he's looking back on his life, and offers this somewhat defensive but also defiant account.
       Already in the opening paragraph he mentions some of his main stations and achievements: that he served his country as an ambassador (to Peru), that he's been "a leading member of the sugar bloc", as well as: "a nationalist entrepreneur"; he also acknowledges that his enemies consider him: "a predatory menace to Philippine society".
       Carlos was born into wealth and influence. The house he grew up in had a garage which could hold ten cars -- and five drivers lived on the property. When he was a child, the Second World War and the Japanese occupation did not much affect the family's lifestyle, with his father holding: "a very high position in the puppet government"; his father was able also to then sell himself as, in fact, having been a guerilla leader in those years, so that his cabinet position under the Japanese wasn't held against him, with General MacArthur then often a guest at the parties at the family home. Carlos learnt those lessons -- of having the right connections -- well, and comes to benefit, not least from his friendship with 'the Leader' -- the unnamed Ferdinand Marcos.
       Much of Carlos' account focuses on the women in his life, beginning with the maid, Severina, his first great and then lost love, with whom the teenager has a sexual relationship. Later, there is often an overlap between the women he is interested in and his foreign business dealings, in Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, as he takes advantage of the rapid economic advancement in these countries from the 1950s onward to spread the tentacles of his own business-dealings; a lot of Sin takes place abroad. For all the women in his life, Carlos never marries -- and none of the women are as significant -- and lasting -- a presence as Carlos' sister Corito, two years older than him.
       Carlos and Corito are extremely close -- and, yes, their relationship is part of the 'sin' of the title, one then compounded by the birth of a daughter, Angela, and then, eventually, by the appearance of Delfin, the son Carlos never knew he had.
       Carlos is pompous and rather too full of himself -- when mentioning his hobby of photography he insists: "some of my best pictures would be envied by Cecil Beaton and my portraits can equal if not surpass those of Richard Avedon" -- but he's an engaging narrator. He is surprisingly cultured -- his father only bought books, but Carlos: "developed a habit of reading, even those upstart novels written by Filipinos", and he takes some interest in art. He is a shrewd businessman as well, but also very generous (as he can well afford to be), which makes him somewhat more sympathetic.
       The title of the novel does however make clear what's at the heart of the novel. Early on, Carlos says: "Sin is a social definition -- not a moral one", but his fundamental one is certainly one that most people would have some trouble with -- and it is compounded by some of his other actions, making for a story that is more like classical Greek drama than what most contemporary authors would play around with (even those upstart Filipino novelists ...). José does address some of the issues of modern Filipino society under a corrupt ruling class, but from Carlos' lofty vantage point -- "I truly had freedom", he acknowledges, thanks to his incredible wealth, and he knows that few have anything resemble what he does -- he only engages with it quite superficially: he is aware, but stands above most of it.
       Of course, even Carlos can't have everything, and the lingering aftereffects of his sin(s) can't fully be countered -- though his position does allow him to arrange for discreet, distant medical care, which makes some things a bit easier ..... And, yes, it is all a bit melodramatic, too.
       José writes well, fully capturing Carlos' easy confidence. It can feel a bit rushed at times, in how quickly Carlos deals with his far-flung business-success, but then the focus is meant to be largely elsewhere. Though a Filipino story, Sin is also strikingly international in range, with much of the activity Carlos describes happening abroad -- an interesting glimpse of the Pacific region and its different cultures in those times.
       The focus is rather much on Carlos as ladies' man, and a variety of his conquests, all made rather simple for him. From his teenage 'seduction' of Severina to later ones, such as when he explains to one of his conquests: "I am going to rape you, Yoshiko. You can struggle and scream any way you like, I do not care", his actions reflect his sense of entitlement and the environment he grew up in (with a father who kept no less than four mistresses) but are no less off-putting for that. At least, Carlos does not entirely lack self-awareness -- at least in retrospect, if not always the moment ("I did not realize then the cruelty of what I was doing").
       It makes for a rather odd novel, with its interesting glimpses of post-war Filipino society (and the roots of its ruling class from earlier times) and much of the Pacific region mixed in with what amounts to high Greek tragedy. José tells Carlos' story in an appealing style -- but it is a bit too compact for everything he seems to want to touch on.
       Of interest, but not entirely a success.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 May 2023

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Sin: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Filipino author Francisco Sionil José lived 1924 to 2022.

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© 2023 the complete review

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