A year’s harvest of best books

Thirty-five books were judged to be the best in their respective categories as the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board revealed the winners of the 41st National Book Awards on 9 December 2023. An awarding ceremony is being prepared for February.

The annual prize selects the outstanding books published in the Philippines in the year and celebrates the vibrance of local book publishing.

NBDB received 235 nominations in 34 categories and in two divisions (Literary, Non-Literary and Design), hinting at the persisting robustness of the Philippine publishing industry. Also, there are entries in some of the Philippine languages aside from Filipino and English — Bikol (Central Bicolano), Binisaya (Cebuano), Hiligaynon, Tausug and Waray — denoting positive developments in writing in the vernacular.

Yñiga: A Novel by Glenn Diaz (Ateneo de Manila University Press), the Best Novel in English winner, and El Arbol de la Alegria: Southern Quartet I by RM Topacio-Aplaon (Isang Balangay Media Productions), the Best Novel in Filipino winner, lead the victorious roster in the Literary Division.

On Yñiga, the organizers describe: “Between the interlocking scenes of beauty and horror runs a magic that only Diaz can create out of thin air, subtle in some places, maniacal in others, yet ever so mindful that the author must be in full control of the story. The way the author grabs hold of the political question and allows it to rankle and grow bitter slowly in the heart of the reader is a marvel of political storytelling. To Diaz, disappearances are not simple crimes against humanity, but they are, in a variety of subtle ways, a means to be found.”

On the other hand, El Arbol de la Alegria is praised for its “sopistikadong pagkukuwento (sophisticated storytelling)” and “arkitektura ng mga kabanata na dumadaloy sa malinaw at mahusay na gamit ng wika, kung saan ang lirisismo ay isang meditasyon at sikolohikal na eksaminasyor sa estado ng modernong tao sa milyu ng kapitalismo at komersyalisasyon ng kapaligiran (architecture of the chapters that flow with clear and skillful use of language, in which the lyricism is a meditation and psychological examination of the state of modern person in the milieu of capitalism and commercialization of the environment).”

Meanwhile, Vida Cruz-Borja’s Song of the Mango and Other New Myths (ADMU Press) won the National Artist Cirilo F. Bautista Prize for Best Book of Short Fiction in English for being a “magical concoction. A bouillabaisse of fantasy and fabulist storytelling crafted to near perfection,” adding that “most everything that excites a serious reader appears on its pages — the love for books, the sweet cadence of well-crafted lines, a tome carved and designed to amaze, a deep, dark-haired controversy.”

On the other hand, the Gerardo P. Cabochan Prize for Best Book of Short Fiction in Filipino is handed to Rowena P. Festin’s Ang Buang ng Bayan: Mga Maikling Kuwento (University of the Philippines Press), described as “masarap basahin ang bawat walong kuwento sa banayad na wika nito kung saan boses ng mga marginal na tauhan sa kanilang talino at siste ang naririnig at sa mayaman nitong detalye na lumalampas sa pagiging etnograpiko ng lugar (the eight stories are enjoyable to read with its flowing language where the voices of marginal characters in their intelligence and system can be heard and with its rich details that go beyond being ethnographic).”

Coming Home to the Island: Poems by Arlene J. Yandug (Xavier University Press), which is declared Philippine Literary Arts Council Prize for Best Book of Poetry in English, “suggests in 50 poems a journey in time, parsed by five enigmatic section subtitles that read together as a narrative paradigm: your story travels/in many voices/ throughout the land/ about things you can’t decipher/ arriving at today which holds everything there is.” The citation additionally says that Yandug’s “epic imagination sings of how one navigates the waters of history to come home to a specific island in the archipelago. She also sings of a ‘coming home’ to a specific time, today, which is imbricated with sediments of remembered history, particularly inflected here as Mindanawon.”

More winners

On the other hand, the Victorio C. Valledor Prize for Best Book of Poetry in Filipino goes to Sa Ika-ilang Sirkulo ng Impyerno by Miguel Paolo Celestial (Isang Balangay Media Productions).

Other winning books in the division are Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer and Other Medical Misadventures by Wilfredo Liangco (Milflores Publishing) and Rodolfo Biazon: Soldier, Solon, Statesman by Eric Ramos (Milflores Publishing), Pablo A. Tan Prize for Best Book of Nonfiction Prose in English; Pasasaan by Jesus Aman Calvario (Isang Balangay Media Productions), Best Book of Nonfiction Prose in Filipino; Kalandrakas Part 1, 1890-1945: Stories and Storytellers of/on Regions in Mindanao, 1890-1990 and Kalandrakas Part 2, 1946-1990: Stories and Storytellers of/on Regions in Mindanao, 1890-1990, edited by Ricardo M. De Ungria (ADMU Press), Best Anthology in English; Plus/+ at Iba Plus, Maramihan: New Philippine Nonfiction on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities, edited by Rolando B. Tolentino and Chuckberry J. Pascual (ADMU Press), Best Anthology in Filipino; Isang Dalumat ng Panahon by Christian Jil R. Benitez (ADMU Press), Best Book of Literary Criticism/Cultural Studies; Alternative Cinema: The Unchronicled History of Alternative Cinema in the Philippines by Nick Deocampo (UP Press), Best Book on Media Studies; Death be Damned by Mike Alcazaren, Noel Pascual and AJ Bernardo, and illustrated by AJ Bernardo and Josel Nicolas (Komiket Inc.), Best Graphic Novel and Comics in English; Josefina by Russell L. Molina and illustrated by Ace C. Enriquez (Adarna House), Best Graphic Novel and Comics in Filipino; and Huni at Pakpak: Mga Dula, Mga Sanaysay by Luna Sicat Cleto (UP Press), Best Book on Drama and Film.

The winning translations are Ken Ishikawa’s translation of Bebang Siy’s It’s A Mens World (Isang Balangay Media Productions), Best Translated Book in English; Chuckberry J. Pascual’s translation of Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House), Best Translated Book in Filipino; Alice M. Sun-Cua’s translation of Nada by Carmen Laforet (Sto Niño de Cebu Publishing House), Best Translated Book in Hiligaynon; and Benj Bangahan’s translation of Sarena’s Story: The Loss of a Kingdom (Suy-Suy ni Sarena: In Paglawa’ sin Hambuuk Sultaniyya) by Criselda Yabes (Pawikan Press), Best Translated Book in Tausug.

Winning works in Binisaya are the novel Arkipelago: Nobela by Januar Yap (Advaux Publishing); the short story collection Dili Pwede Mogawas ug Ubang Mga Sugilanon (Can’t Go Out and Other Stories) by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano (Ateneo de Davao University Publication Office); the anthology Sinug-Ang: A Cebuano Trio by Erlinda Alburo, Ester Tapia, and Corazon Almerino (University of San Carlos Publishing House); and the poetry collection Ang Nakayatak kay Nayatakan (Who Steps Upon Is Stepped Upon) by Adonis Durado (UP Press).

In the Non-Literary Division, Julio Nakpil (1867-1960) Collected Works Volume 1: Piano, Vocal, and Chamber Music, edited by Maria Alexandra Iñigo Chua (UST Publishing House), won the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Art, while Transfiguring Mindanao: A Mindanao Reader, edited by Jose Jowel Canuday and Joselito Sescon (ADMU Press) won the Elfren S. Cruz Prize for Best Book in the Social Sciences.

The other winners are The Chinese Mestizos of Cebu City, 1750-1900 by Michael Cullinane (University of San Carlos Publishing House), John C. Kaw Prize for Best Book on History; Raising Quality Education in the Philippines: Selected Speeches and Writings by Father Joel E. Tabora, SJ (Ateneo de Davao University Publication Office), Best Book on Professions; The You-have-to-go-through-a-lot-of-crap to-get-to-good-ideas Book by David Guerrero (Milflores Publishing), Best Book on Humor, Sports, Lifestyle and Business; Flavors of Iloilo by Rafael J. Jardeleza, Jr. (Iloilo City Government), Best Book on Food; The Role of Rainforestation in Forest Landscape Restoration and Conservation in the Island Municipality of Pilar, Camotes, Cebu by Guiraldo C. Fernandez, Jr. and Marlito M. Bande (Aletheia Printing and Publishing House), Best Book in Science; The Islands of Faith: Crossroads of Mission by Andrew Gimenez Recepcion (Ateneo de Naga University Press), Best Book in Spirituality and Theology; and Life-times of Becoming Human by Neferti X. M. Tadiar (Everything’s Fine), Best Book in Philosophy.

Vergel O. Santos’ Duterte Watch: Descent into Authoritarianism Collected Commentaries (UST Publishing House) is described as “insightful and razor-sharp” and it “pulls together decades of experience so that his readers are treated not only to a courageous collection of journalistic opinion writing, but a highly intuitive one,” thus winning the Best Book in Journalism.

In the lone category of the Design Division, the Best Book Design, Transfiguring Mindanao: A Mindanao Reader, designed by Karl Castro (ADMU Press) is declared winner.

Here’s to looking forward for more great books in the coming years.