Books over the Sembreak

Sembreak Series: part 2 of unknown number of parts.
October 26, 2013

It’s my second sembreak as a medstudent. Yup. I am already a year and a half done with medschool (and hundred more years to come. LOL). And As I usually don’t go home to my beloved homeland (Sulu) during sembreaks for a lot of reasons, I might as well spend the whole two weeks of freedom (and boredom) doing something worth remembering: read away from medicine-related things. I keep on telling myself that I should be productive this sembreak that I may not regret it (or die of boredom from it). After all what’s the purpose of calling it a “break” if you’ll not take a break? Haha.

 I spent the first week of this break on different things. 1) I spent a day rummaging my things and looking for unfinished books to read. Strolled around bookstores nearby and checked some interesting and really cheap books. 2) Also spent some time catching up on movies I failed to watch thanks to the weekly exams we had last sem. 3) Also tried working on my write-ups: my never-been-finish-and-yet-to-see-its-ending novel(s). Yeah, ambitious as I may be, I am still hopeful that I can finish some good part of it(them) this break In shaa Allah. 4) Also practicing with my camera, though I am still too lazy to go out and do a photowalk. And 5) I’m also reviewing my lectures last sem… I am now reading Harrison’s Internal Medicine 2 hours every day.
No, just kidding. The fifth one actually never happened. Not at all.

 Anyway, for the first post on this series, here’s the list of books I read over the weekend :) Not in any order of importance or ratings.
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Surgeons Do Not Cry by Dr. Ting Tiongco

It’s true that great treasures are rare to find. And this book is one of those treasures that all service-oriented Med-students should have. The problem is, it’s pretty hard to find a good bookstore having enough supplies of this copy. I have spent searching a great number of bookstore only to find out that they are already “out of stock”. In fact the copy I found was THE LAST COPY when I bought it! That’s how great this book is.


Written by a surgeon who hailed from Davao, the book shares about the author’s journey from being an Atenista to an “angas” tagalog-speaking med-student of UPCM to clerkship, to internship, then residency and finally towards becoming a full-pledged surgeon trying to serve the many under-served patients who cannot even afford their own meal. Along his ordeals of achieving that dream of becoming a doctor, he shares the different experiences he learned from the struggles of both physicians and patients alike in the majestic walls of Philippine General Hospital. The book is written like a journal; the reader could imagine what the author is writing as if he’s right there witnessing everything unfold in the eyes of the author himself. It was well written full of emotions (honestly, who would have thought doctors have emotions? LOL). Most of the entries talks about his patients, their problems not just about their medical conditions but also of their troubles outside the hospital. And of course their heroic doctors who are trying to help them. I could say that the book is indeed a must-read not just to med-students but to all service-minded people out there. Or if you are looking for something to read that will surely inspire you (and bring you to tears). 

Surgeons” is full of life’s teachings that we as busy, white-coat-people always tend to overlook. It is a living manifesto that even doctors, amidst their great skills and bright minds, can never act God. That even surgeons get hurt. Even surgeons do have to cry sometimes.

It’s a 150 something page book and I finished it in 3 hours :) This simply shows how I loved it.

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The Many Ways of Being Muslim: Fiction by Muslim Filipinos Edited by Coeli Barry

Students learn from their teachers and masters. And an aspiring writer slash novelist should also learn and seek inspiration from those experienced writers, experts in their own fields. And what’s the best way to learn from them than read their pieces?

I first saw this anthology of different short stories written by Muslim authors from 1970s to early 2000s. When I first saw it in a bookstore, I grabbed it with dear yearning that: “Oh God, I should have this!” But as the usual scenario, I checked the price, checked my wallet, replaced the book on the shelf… and went home with a sad heart. No not that’s it’s too expensive. I just can’t afford it then haha. Oh well, Alhamdulillah a great opportunity came on September 2013 when I attended the 34th Manila International Book Fair held in SMX Pasay. I met this good old acquaintance and it’s half the price than the first time I saw it! So I grabbed the book and held it this time and never hesitated to finally get a copy.

“The Many Ways” is a collection of great short stories written my famous short story writers like Ibrahim Jubaira, Said K. Sadain Jr., and Mehol Sadain. Other writers include Calbi Asain, Noralyn Mustafa, Pearlsha Abubakar, Arifah Jamil, Elin Anisha Guro and Ms. Loren Lao whom their masterpieces are all worth the praise to be included in this anthology.

I enjoyed reading the entries by Ibrahim Jubaira the most as they are unique in its own way. It’s like reliving the 1970s days again. No doubt that he received those numerous awards and recognitions he had when we was still alive.

It’s also always a pleasure reading short stories with settings and characters you are familiar with. Talk about a dayang-dayang (princess) waiting at the astana’ for his groom-to-be that will may not come; or Jaafar, a poor young man searching for his purpose; or of Hamid and Al trying to settle whether it’s the western or the eastern knowledge that is far worth mastering; or of Macaodal coming home to Ranao as the only educated and full-pledged Engineer in their clan only to get into bigger trouble than he asked for? The 22 different short stories, written in different years, by different writers is indeed a great read. Reading through them is like riding on different jeepneys each stop; experiencing different stories each ride. It’s a mish-mash of colorful stories that showcases the artistic minds of the Muslims that are seldom heard nor read in popular writings. 

All of the stories were written in English, with some touch of Muslim culture. I wish years from now I could find another anthology of new age Muslim writers. And better yet if they are written in their own local language (Tausug, Meranao, Maguindanaon, Sinama, etc.) That would add points to their uniqueness and the worth of preserving the local dialects and promoting creative literatures as well.

The Many ways has 170+ pages. I started reading it last September but stopped about a fourth of the book remaining during the first week of October. Just finished reading it last October 24.

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Below the Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes

Just like “Surgeons”, this book is one of those I was “destined” to have. Here’s the story of how I got my own copy of this lovely novel.

I was doing my usual scan-the-titles-of-books in a nearby bookstore without any intention of buying any books at all. If I happened to find some interesting title, I would check its author, its content (summary at the back if available) then the price. I was scanning books in the ‘Philippine Literatures’ section, letting my finger slide through titles, when my eyes suddenly caught a very interesting title: “Below the Crying Mountain”. The title indeed hit me as I have known only one mountain having that famous namesake as the “crying mountain” in my whole life: Bud Tumantangis, the highest mountain throughout the Sulu archipelago. I stopped there and took the book. After reading the short synopsis at the back cover, confirming that it is really about my dear homeland, and after knowing that it’s from the UP Press, I hurriedly checked my wallet if I have brought enough money with me. After checking all my pockets for more coins to add, I counted a total of 250php, the exact price of the book! And it’s the last copy!

After some minutes of considerations whether to skip lunch or not buy the book, I finally decided to buy it.  And I’m happy that I did. Right after checking out the book from the cashier, I hurriedly removed the plastic covering and start reading it even before I went out of the bookstore. I finally went home that day and finished the book that same night. If there’s a good on my hand, I usually cannot sleep without finishing it first. And “Below the crying mountain” is indeed worth that praise.

 Below the Crying Mountain is a Non-fiction account of the uprising in the 1970s in Sulu hidden in a fictional character and story. It is a story within a story that makes it more unique. It also shares the author’s own personal quest, relating it to the main protagonist’s (Rosy Wright) story that gave birth to this novel. The author’s way of sharing the story was so realistic, so vivid that I could sense the emotions of each character; I could see the old buildings in Sulu in the 1970s that were destroyed during the “burning of Jolo” (which is also the climax of the story); I could even feel each event unfolding right before my eyes. The author’s interviews with the actual players in the story had shows its authenticity that this was not a fiction at all, but a real story that actually happened. No doubt that this masterpiece was awarded with the prestigious Gawad Likhaan: The UP Centennial Literary Prize Winner and was nominated for Man Asian Literary Prize in 2010. 

What I enjoyed most in the book is the accounts of one of the highlights of Sulu’s history: The Burning of Jolo in February 1974. It was one of those turning points that made a drastic change from what was Jolo before and what is Jolo now. To quote the author (rephrased): “It was then that the wall-clock in Plaza Tulay (a famous place in Jolo) stopped. As if time itself stopped there for Jolo.”

I was also amazed by the authors own account of the ever-neglected historical landmarks in Jolo and Zamboanga that I have been so familiar with: The Kawa-Kawa boulevard, Port Pilar, the Jolo Seaport and the old lighthouse (dearly referred as the “eye-fall tower” by the protagonists of the story), Masjid Tulay, the statues in the Sulu Hospital, the humble streets of Jolo, the famous Bud Datu, and of course, the crying mountain: Bud Tumantangis. This book also rekindled my interest in searching for the hidden history of my own hometown: some I have tried to search for and some of it I have already re-discovered. It was in fact my first encounter with the term “The Eye-Fall tower”, which led me to the adventure of searching for it myself. (Read my post about the eye-fall tower here)

I am now rereading the book for the third time. It’s a 162 page novel and indeed worth a read for those who have an interest in understanding what had happened during the 1970s insurgency and what that incident brought to the people below the crying mountain :)

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There. That’s three of the I-don’t-know-how-many-more books I have read and still trying to read throughout the sembreak. I will supply and continue the second part of this post in shaa Allah.

Just a Disclaimer: All the books I have mentioned above are all worth reading and whatever I may have said about them are purely my own opinion; as how I see them and what I felt (emotionally) upon reading them. Yes, I do read with emotions, LOL. For I believe that’s one of the secrets in enjoying a good book. Let your mind flow and let your imagination go wild and try to feel what the author felt when writing his or her piece; try to imagine and capture what great message they are trying to convey. I may have mistakes in giving them a review, and I could never give them justice for my lack of skill and perhaps talent in writing. I am no good writer after all, just a mere beginner writer-novelist-wannabe. All I wanted to share here is how I loved their masterpiece, they have been a great inspiration to me, and I will cherish each of them throughout my life. In shaa Allah.

For now, Salam kasilasa!

-Anak Iluh

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