On Wilfrido Nolledo’s But for the Lovers, originally in Post Road

Writer Gina Apostol wrote this brief paragraph about But for the Lovers for Post Road, a journal from Boston College. Thank you Gina ~ Mimi Nolledo


But For the Lovers, by Wilfrido Nolledo

Practically flawless in its use of free indirect discourse as a weapon of national memory, this novel set in Japanese-occupied Manila during the Second World War is written as if in cold-blooded delirium. When Jane Austen in the early nineteenth century began writing in the free indirect style, she of course could not have imagined how her narrative simulation of the vagaries of consciousness would engender one day the dream-novel of a Filipino expatriate in Iowa. Nolledo, who was a journalist, short story writer and playwright as well, weaves pitch-perfect voices, each haunting and distinct, of multiple misfits on the ragged edges of a war-torn city—a city fractured not only by violence but by language, rent not just by war but by history. Having been plundered for centuries by Spain, then raped by plan by America, Manila in 1945 is in the grip of the lunatic Japanese as it waits in numbed thrall for the arrival of its tardy saviors, MacArthur’s GIs. Witnesses to the country’s dissolution are an aging star of the obsolete Spanish theater, a pensive urban thief, a provincial virgin left for dead, a Japanese ‘ghost,’ a raving, downed American pilot mistaken for a savant. The lush fevered imagery never descends into mere tropical cliché because of Nolledo’s absolute mastery of voice—from the extravagantly worn Spanishisms of his vaudeville Manila clown to the tour de force hallucinations in Midwestern slang of the raving American pilot, Nolledo crafts with conviction the story of a doomed city, ravaged ‘but for the lovers, their arms/ round the griefs of the ages/ who pay no praise or wages/ nor heed…craft or art.’ Nolledo’s prose is a powerful marriage of modernist poetry and disciplined narration. Reprinted by Dalkey Archive in 1994, with an introduction by Robert Coover (!), But for the Lovers has been hailed as a ‘cult masterpiece,’ another term for those great books unjustly unread.