Why We Read

It was Camilo who gave me the book. He is dead now. He was killed at the start of the Nicaraguan insurrection that toppled the 45-year-old Somoza dynasty. We were both young. We were both aware that our country was in trouble and that all the civic avenues to change were closed: Elections were rigged, and the military captured, tortured and killed anyone who dared express opposition. Camilo showed up one day at my office with a worn-out copy of Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth.” The Algerian author wrote of colonialism and struggle, but his book made me realize that we Nicaraguans had no alternative but to fight the dictator. The words on the page were like hands shaking me awake. The images I had collected from living in a country where social injustice and dictatorship had cut short so many lives came galloping into my mind. I knew I couldn’t remain indifferent. Shortly afterward, I joined the Sandinista guerrillas. I remember that book often. I remember the rage but also the courage it made me feel. Books have the power to be the light we are seeking at crucial moments in our lives. Reading helps us realize we are not alone, that we can change our circumstances and even achieve the impossible. I named my son Camilo in memory of the dead friend who gave me that book.

Gioconda Belli,*
‘Why We Read’, Los Angeles Times

* The author of “Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand, a novel of Adam and Eve.”

4 thoughts on “Why We Read

  1. Great quote indeed! It’s been a while since I visited your blog and im delighted to see the names of Sartre and Fanon in your previous posts. Nonetheless, im still hoping (no, im suggesting) that you put further, not really greater, emphasis on Filipino writings (Bulosan, Hernandez, Constantino, Agoncillo, L.V Teodoro, etc,.and the present-day of course).

    By the way, the Camillo quoted above is Camillo Cienfuegos of Cuba, right? Thanks.

  2. I’ve read some Bulosan, some Lualhati Bautista, the two Constantino history books, and regularly check sir Teodoro’s blogs, among others. So onto the game of likes and dislikes: I don’t like Agoncillo that much. But I particularly love Benjamin Pimentel’s original book on the life of Edgar Jopson. Ultimately, I like reading more nonfiction Filipino writings than literary ones.

    I must confess to owning a certain dislike for most contemporary Filipino literature (or those that I find while looking at the shelves of local bookstores) and this in a way, also hindered my delving much into classic Filipino writings. A sort of, how should I call it, regionalistic undercurrent in Cebu also didn’t nurture an appreciation for the national language, which as we know is primarily based on tagalog.

    Rest assured though that I am presently in the process of remedying this grave deficiency.

    P.S. I think that’s another Camillo there. Camilo Cienfuegos died during the Cuban Revolution against the US-backed Batista regime.

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