All My Lonely Islands by VJ Campilan: Book Review

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Synopsis from Goodreads: One crisp March evening, Crisanta and Ferdinand arrive on the remote Batanes islands for a mission: locate Graciella, whose son, Stevan, they saw die in a tragic accident a decade ago. But they need to confess something to her: Stevan’s death is not all what it seems. Oppressed by a decade of painful memories, Crisanta and Ferdinand must race against time—from the wild swamplands of the Sundarban forest in Bangladesh to the back alleys of Manila to the savage cliffs of Batanes—to offer Graciella the truth that they themselves cannot bear to face.

Publisher: Anvil Publishing

Date Published:  2017

Date Read: February 2017

Number of Pages: 204

Setting: Batanes, Philippines / Dhaka, Bangladesh

Get your copy here.

Source: Sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Exceptional writing style, truly worthy of its praise.

This book won the Grand Prize for the Novel 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for a reason. It is without a doubt truly worthy of that prestigious award. Now how to give the justice it deserves? I have zero idea, but I’m trying anyway. I have to point out first that this book is very well-written in all sense of the word. The words used in each sentences were carefully crafted so as to give life to the story. And though it was fairly a short read, it was a book that you need to savor. It is the book that you don’t rush finishing, but still ultimately look forward for an unadulterated time to be alone with it. It has this melancholic vibe to it that one can’t simply shake off. A book that will give you that sense of foreboding and as the story peaks up, you’re hanging on to every sentence leading to the inevitable end.

I truly adored how the story was written, it was a recollection of Crisanta’s life  from childhood up to her teenage years in Dhaka, Bangladesh and all the events that transpired between then and the present times. How the main character was able to reconcile the demons of her past with her present self. And can we also talk about how the narration was so vivid and beautiful it is as if you are truly there in the story. Batanes, Dhaka and Sundarban were all described with such eloquence and impressive imagery. The author painted these places in such a beautiful light, without sugarcoating it. It was presented in the most realistic way possible and I think that contributed to the overall beauty of the book. All My Lonely Islands also highlighted a lot of Filipino cultures and traditions though most of the book transpired in Dhaka Bangladesh. A book I will definitely recommend to those who would want to know  more about the Philippines and its haunting beauty.

Each character was unique – flawed, yes, but forgivable. Take for an instance Ferdinand, this troubled boy who didn’t have an easier life and was always living up to what people purports him to be. Oh that part when his parents found out that he was in trouble, the relief on their faces – because he was something they could define. Good god, that was a great explanation. I don’t want to reveal much of it, I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone anyway. I loved Ferdinand’s character, this may not be the same to others. But his character was the one who improved a whole lot. Crisanta’s character on the other hand was pretty consistent one, her character was the perfect depiction of every Filipino teenager, or every teenager for that matter. I was able to relate to her in more ways than one. And Stevan, how do I even start with Stevan? I wish there was more of Stevan. He was the character I wanted to know more of. He seems to be that boy who was also trying hard to survive each of his grueling days in high school, just as much as everyone else. Every character in this book was well thought out adding color to the story.

The subtle hints provided by the author in each chapter was enough to keep you going, enough to keep you interested. It wasn’t revealing everything at the first instance, there was the element of surprise and coherence. Every event was connected to the other. The side stories are also exceptional, like the one about Pobrito, man, that hit me hard. It was heartbreaking, ugly, depressing and yet I was so drawn to it, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Who would have thought that this was only the first book of the author? It seems to me that she had been writing all her life to come up with something that’ll hit you hard, of something that is so thought-provoking you couldn’t help but pause and ponder on the words you just read. And if being a Filipino is the only association I can have with this author, then I am damn proud to be a Filipino. Filipino talents are indeed world class, this book is the proof of it. This book struck a special cord in my heart, I’m confident to tell (yes even just two months in the year) that this book will be included in my Top 17 Books of 2017. This book deserves to be read even once in one’s lifetime. Honestly the blurb didn’t give the book much justice. If I passed by this one in a bookstore and read that blurb, I would be curious, but not enough to be inclined to read it right away. I just wish there was more to the blurb, it wasn’t able to fully grasp the whole beauty of the book. This is the only issue I have with this book, but hey this is what reviews are for. So I’m really trying my best to persuade you guys to not just depend on blurbs. Take a chance on a book, take a chance on this one!

That ending was exactly what the book needed – it was a closure. I felt more satisfied than ever, I appreciated that it took its sweet time. Not one thing was forced, it is as if everything happened at its own pace, at its own perfect time. Everything culminated and unfolded into this simple yet profound tale. Im glad I have read this one, made me value life more.

Rating: rating_5stars

“You’re trying to look for rock bottom, to that part of yourself that could no longer feel pain. But there is no such thing as rock bottom. As long as there is left to destroy in you, you’d do it. We always feel the need to sink ourselves because we keep being intolerable, because if we’re suffering then maybe people would give us a break for all the shameful things we do. You think you could impose your own penance, but it never goes away, does it? That kind of deadening that’s worse than actual dying.”

― V.J. CampilanAll My Lonely Islands

phonto

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2 thoughts on “All My Lonely Islands by VJ Campilan: Book Review

  1. Saw your video reading this book aloud on FB for NBS advocacy program. I am very glad that you liked this as much as I did. Gave it a five-star rating as well. I love that ending, it made me cry. Poor Pobrito made me cry, too. I hope more people, not only FIlipinos, will be able to read this one.

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