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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Instituto Cervantes Publishes Jesús Balmori’s Los Pajáros de Fuego

Majority of the classical Philippine literature was written in Spanish. Unknown to many, a great portion of Filipino nationalists were masters of the Spanish language and their works now bear testament to the nation’s Hispanic roots.

Clásicos Hispanofilipinos, a project by Instituto Cervantes de Manila aiming to preserve the works of Fil-hispanic authors from the beginning of the 20th century, is publishing the Spanish novel of Filipino journalist, playwright and poet, Jesús Balmori Los pájaros de fuego (Birds of fire) on June 28, 7pm at Instituto Cervantes’ Salón de Actos.

Funded by Instituto Cervantes and the Embassy of Spain, Biblioteca Clásicos Hispanofilipinos seeks to bring recognition to the last batch of Spanish works written in the Philippines. It was launched last January with Adelina Gurrea Monasterio’s book Cuentos de Juana (Juana’s Stories).

A novel with remarkable historic and literary value, Balmori’s Los Pájaros de fuego is considered to be as the “lost novel.” All pages of the book, except the final chapter, were written by Balmori during the Japanese occupation. It miraculously escaped the repeated raids of the Japanese henchmen as Balmori stored each chapter in glass bottles and buried them under the garden of his house.

After the war, the manuscript was recovered from the ruins of Balmori’s house, finished and sold by the author to the Government, who committed to publish it. However, the manuscript of Los pájaros de fuego remained unnoticed for decades until three years ago in the National Archives.

Filipino Heritage

The book, edited by scholar Isaac Donoso, is of great significance to the Philippine History as it recounts Manila life during the Japanese occupation. “A great portion of the Philippine literature was written by native Filipinos in Spanish and Biblioteca Clásicos Hispanofilipinos aims to reintroduce and put into the hands of Spanish speaking readers a literature with remarkable value”, says Instituto Cervantes director José Rodríguez. "This project is about preserving and promoting Filipino Heritage."

Born in Ermita, Manila on January 10, 1887, Balmori is a Spanish literary prodigy having excelled in Literature at an early age. In his early years, he was already winning literary honors for poetry and at age 17, he already published his first book of verses, Rimas Malayas.

He often engaged in friendly debate via poetry known as “balagtasan” with fellow poet Manuel Bernabe – with the former emerging as the winner every time.

Before the war, Balmori – under the penname “Batikuling” – had his journalistic stint for the La Vanguardia where he wrote about the society’s power elite – showcasing his talent as a creative writer.

As a lyric poet, Balmori garnered different national awards like for his poem “Gloria” (1908) which won first prize in a contest sponsored by El Renacimiento and “A Nuestro Señor Don Quijote de la Mancha,” (1920) which attained the major award in a contest promoted by Casas de España. However, some of Balmori’s greatest poems are in the collection “Mi Casa de Nipa” (1940), which won the grand prize for poetry in the national literary contest sponsored by the Commonwealth government.

Clásicos Hispanofilipinos is planning to publish two titles every year. Among the scheduled writers are Claro Mayo Recto, Antonio Abad, T. M. Kalaw and Evangelina Guerrero.

Biblioteca Clásicos Hispanofilipinos is organized by Instituto Cervantes de Manila in collaboration with the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines, the Spanish International Cooperation Agency for Development (AECID) and the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation from Ministerio de Cultura de España. Among the supporting universities are the University of the Philippines (Department of European Languages, UP Diliman) and the University of Alicante (Spain).

Entrance to this book launch is free. For more information, please call 5261482 or visit Instituto Cervantes de Manila is at 855 T.M. Kalaw St., Ermita, Manila.

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