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Book 12: Philippines (English): Noli Me Tangere (José RIZAL)

 

Toward the end of October, Don Santiago de los Santos, who was generally known as Captain Tiago, gave a dinner party that, despite its having been announced only that afternoon, which was not his usual practice, was the topic of every conversation in Binondo and neighbouring areas, and even as far as Intramuros. In those days Captain Tiago was considered the most liberal of men, and it was known that the doors of his house, like those of his country, were closed to no one but tradesmen or perhaps a new or daring idea.

 

This is the great novel by the famous independence hero which largely provoked the Philippine Revolution from the Spanish. ‘Noli’ is quite anti-clerical (the clerics virtually ran the country during the Spanish colony) and rails against the injustices of the time. As a book of its time, it can seem a bit melodramatic but is nevertheless very readable, especially for a political novel. Its love story is foiled by a venal priest, who symbolises the Catholic Church’s overwhelming and deleterious role in the colony. From the first paragraph Rizal’s subtle sarcasm is obvious.
It was published in Berlin and it was written in Spanish (despite the Latin title), but I suppose most people nowadays read it in English (as I did) or Tagalog. Rizal himself was a great polymath and polyglot who is tragically little-known outside his homeland. He worked against the Spanish colony in his homeland and this book doubtless contributed to his execution for treason after he had returned from Europe. Both the author and his work deserve a far greater audience.

Rizal, Jose (1861 – 1896), Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), translated from Spanish by Harold Augenbraum, New York: Penguin Classics, 2006, ISBN 978-0-14-303969-3

(Originally published Berlin, 1886)

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