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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

El Filibusterismo

José Rizal

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To purchase El Filibusterismo

Title: El Filibusterismo
Author: José Rizal
Genre: Novel
Written: 1891 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 338 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: El Filibusterismo - US
El Filibusterismo - UK
El Filibusterismo - Canada
Die Rebellion - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: El Filibusterismo
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Harold Augenbraum
  • El Filibusterismo has previously translated as The Reign of Greed (by Charles Derbyshire, 1912), The Subversive (by Leon Ma. Guerrero, 1962), and El Filibusterismo (by Soledad Lacson-Locsin, 1996)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : bursting with stories; an interesting variation on the socio-political novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation* . 9/1/1913 .
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 2/3/1913 .

*: review is of a previous translation

  From the Reviews:
  • "This portrayal of Filipino life gives permanent interest to these books. The characters are taken from every branch of society, including the Spaniard of noble ideals and the native of barbarous instincts. We are not sure that psychologically these people are very deeply or acutely drawn; but their exteriors at least are real and vivacious. If we do not carry away from among them any lasting friendships, we do gain a picture of life in the Philippines that is varied and complete." - The Nation

  • "The author's shafts of attack are directed especially against the friars. He is unhesitating in his exposure, however, of whatever he believes to be evil in Philippine society. His style is clear, ironic, sometimes picturesque. (...) The Reign of Greed is written with more political force and less charm, and is almost without incident." - The New York Times Book Review

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:

       El Filibusterismo is the sequel (of sorts) to Rizal's Filipino classic, Noli me tangere. It is set some thirteen years after the events of the earlier book, and many of the figures from Noli figure in it. Noli is, of course, dominated by Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra and his ideals for a better future for the Philippines -- including fostering education as a means of improving the lot of the Filipinos. In both novels the corruption of those in power, and especially the friars -- representatives of the powerful Catholic Church -- is repeatedly shown and attacked.
       At the beginning of El Filibusterismo Ibarra is supposed to be long dead, and in his stead Simoun is introduced, a jewelry merchant whom little is known about. The wily merchant clearly has big ambitions -- and quite possibly the means to accomplish them -- though he plays his cards close to his vest. For good reason, too. One man learns his biggest secret early on (and the reader surely will have guessed it, too ...) -- but Simoun trusts that his secret is safe with him: "Like me, you have accounts to settle with the rest of society".
       Simoun reveals that:

I've traveled the world over and worked day and night to amass a fortune to carry out my plan. Now I've come back to destroy that system, to shatter the corruption, to push it to the abyss to which it rushes without even its own knowledge, even if it means a tidal wave of tears and blood. It has doomed itself, but I don't want to die without seeing it in tatters at the bottom of the cliff.
       What Simoun rages against is a sclerotic system in which a few wield great power and use it to hold the masses back. Education -- which few have access to, and which in practice turns out to be a beating (or numbing) into submission -- and claims of moral authority, in particular, are among the ways the friars and the nation's elite maintain complete control. They even take pride in the fact that:
We're not like the English and the Dutch who, in order to maintain the people's submission, make use of the whip ... We employ softer, more secure measures. The healthy influence of the friars is superior to the English whip.
       It makes for a largely docile if frustrated population, with almost no one daring to voice even the slightest criticism, or admit to any thought that is not in lock-step with those in power, as:
Here any independent thought, any word that does not echo the will of the powerful, is called filibusterismo and you know well what that means. It's madness for anyone to have the pleasure of saying what he thinks aloud, because he's courting persecution.
       Simoun is convinced now that open filibusterismo does not suffice; stronger measures are called for -- and he has the plan(s) to overthrow the existing order and mindset. Yes, he has the grandest revolutionary visions:
When the poor neighborhoods erupt in chaos, when my avengers sow discord in the streets, you longtime victims of greed and errancy, I will tear down the walls of your prison and release you from the claws of fanaticism, and then, white dove, you will become a phoenix to rise from its still-glowing ashes. A revolution, woven in the dim light of mystery, has kept me from you. Another revolution will return me to your arms, bring me back to life, and that moon before it reaches the height of its splendor, will light up the Philippines, cleansed of its repugnant trash --
       And later:
Tonight those most dangerous of tyrants will rocket off as dust, those irresponsible tyrants who have hidden behind God and the state, whose abuses remain unpunished because no one can take them to task. Tonight the Philippines will hear an explosion that will convert into rubble the infamous monument whose rotteness I helped bring about.
       Twice the novel builds to a climax, to the promise of incredibly violent upheaval -- an explosion into revolution -- only for the grand plans to implode. Rizal takes his characters to the brink of a violent overthrow of the existing order -- and then draws back, returning to the historical Philippine reality. There are a variety of reasons for why the plans are not carried through as originally intended, but certainly Rizal's own message (as also expressed by characters in the book) is that violence is not the preferred solution, and that, while change is necessary, it should come about peacefully and sensibly. So while the novel does not provide all the simplistic cathartic satisfactions of utopian revolutionary fiction -- wishful thinking fiction -- in its realism, admitting to the near-overwhelming might of the powers-that-be (while also condemning them through and through as base and corrupt), it is a more quietly effective work of literature.
       El Filibusterismo is a social-critical work, with many chapters and scenes set pieces that show just how corrupt and debased this society -- and especially high society, and the friars -- have become. Or rather: remain -- since, as one character notes, if after three and a half centuries of 'education' and leadership by those in power this is all it's come to ... well, that's a pretty sad and sorry indication of how very wrong the approach has been from the get-go.
       Occasionally, Rizal is too specific in his prescriptions and moralizing -- the case for education, and in particular for teaching Spanish, is a good one, but Rizal tries a bit too hard to weave that repeatedly into the narrative -- but it's the stray stories, illustrative of excess and corruption, that ultimately prove most distracting. Some of these are very entertaining, and some of the points both amusing and well-made, but ultimately Simoun is left in the shadows too much of the time. Almost too powerful a figure, it's understandable that Rizal did not constantly want him at the fore, but he's certainly the figure readers want to hear and see more from. Meanwhile, Rizal also isn't quite willing to allow other significant figures, such as Basilio (who becomes a doctor) to take a more prominent place in the narrative either.
       While much of the social criticism here is specific to a time and place, enough is certainly universal; Rizal was also clearly well-versed in the European fiction of the time, and El Filibusterismo is certainly comparable to -- and often more entertaining -- than much of the social fiction coming out of Europe at the time.
       A passionate work, verging sometimes on the melodramatic, El Filibusterismo is an entertaining document of its times, and a fine novel. If Noli me tangere remains the best introduction to the modern Philippines, El Filibusterismo is nevertheless a worthwhile follow-up.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 July 2011

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El Filibusterismo: Reviews: José Rizal: Other books by José Rizal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       José Rizal was born in 1861 and executed in 1896. The author of Noli me tangere, he remains a leading figure in the history of the Philippines.

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