Author's notes: This is a book review I wrote for my literature class (LITERA1). We had guidelines so this is not an ordinary book review. The first part explains the accompanying movie ad we had to make if we were to turn the novel into a movie (cast included). You can view the ad here: . The second part discusses two characters from the novel.
MY BROTHER, MY EXECUTIONER by Francisco Sionil Jose
I. The Poster
Trapped—Luis Asperri was trapped without him knowing it. Trapped in and by his own beliefs and ideals. He exists in a society where almost every aspect of life is predetermined by class status, which he thinks he could do something about, considering the education he has been given and his job as a magazine editor. He's got so many visions for the poor but loses them all when he succeeds his father. Being able to experience both poverty and wealth has broadened his perspective regarding this particular social issue. But at the same time, this knowledge is what made him lose his way towards his goal due to confusion. The "poor" in him causes him to continuously struggle to prove that he is different from his hardhearted father. He hopes to create an identity of himself that is far from his father's shadow. While in search for this identity, however, he's got no choice but to depend on his father's wealth (for his education) and comply with his wishes (like him marrying his cousin). Though, he always tries to justify this obedience and makes excuses just so he could continually believe that he is truly not so fond of his father.
… He loved Trining, too, perhaps in a way that was not as deep as love should be but he loved her nonetheless and that justified everything.
"The decision is an easy one to make, Father," he said. "Come to think of it, I am very fond of Trining, too, but—" he paused, "do you think she will not object?" (p. 92)
Upon his exposure to an extravagant lifestyle, he unknowingly begins to think otherwise. He finally gets a taste of the "other" world and this is when he starts to see things from a different viewpoint, with him convinced that his ideals still remain intact. Before, he could easily offer his wealth to Vic. But when his brother comes to him for the second time, finally claiming what rightfully belongs to the poor, he is suddenly having second thoughts. There seems to be an endless conflict within himself, which is the inability to separate his position as Don Vicente's sole heir from his past of being a son of a farmer. He is caught in this conflict and loses his way towards the end of the road. The road to his ideals which he thought was so easy to trek when he still hasn't got a taste of power and riches. And when he finally had, from being a way towards his goals, it becomes a road to finding his true self instead, and that's when his confusion begins. "Ang landas ay malawig, magabok, di tahas. At sa dulo ay ang hangganan ng pagkukunwaring di akalain." The road he has taken turns out to be the long and winding one. And when he reaches the end, he realizes that the person he's been masquerading all along is just a product of his own idealism and self-centeredness.
… He knew now, however, that this was not so, that this was self-deception instead, and that, as his brother has said, he was incapable of sacrifice…He had believed that he had simplicity, but now he knew that he was obscure instead…because his own feelings were inchoate and therefore devoid of real passion. (pp. 173-174)
This, I think, is what I have tried to do—to create, for myself at least, something that could make me more than what I am…
I think that I am, as usual, flattering myself again, thinking of myself as a creator, equipped with the finest sensibilities, and therefore special… (p. 176)
As an act of escapism, Luis submits to his unsent letters where he could candidly express the sentiments he's always been having a hard time saying out loud. His cowardice to articulate what's going on in his mind could also have contributed to the confusion building up within him. Then another reason, perhaps, that he hasn't realized his mistake soon is his mingling with the wealthy people and those in power. Because the rich couldn't care less about the cries of the poor, there's nobody whom he could openly share his opinion with and therefore, no one's there to check on him and his gradually changing beliefs. There's also the fact that he's been lying to his comrades in the city about his past, thinking that a simple lie would be harmless and insignificant. But this fib has slowly conquered his principles, altering his mindset and making him take a little turn down the road, leading to a completely different path.
Had he remained in Sipnget with Vic and everyone, it would just probably be the same. For out there beyond his little village is the future he may have refused. But nonetheless, he would be restless all throughout his life, wondering what could have awaited him in the red brick house. Perhaps, it really was his fate to be trapped between the worlds of the rich and the poor.
The symbolism of entrapment may also apply to the country. Even the title of the novel itself, My Brother, My Executioner, suggests the local harassment and discrimination taking place within a post-war society.
"…I love our country, but what is our country? It is a land exploited by its own leaders, where the citizens are slaves of their own elite." (p. 73)
Those who have the wealth and power believe they have full control of the so-called future that lies ahead. But this power is the very thing that defines the injustices and oppression they impose in the society. The author has offered two different outlooks on thirst for power. They may not be the same in philosophical terms but both regard the lower class in a condemnatory manner. First, it is exemplified by Don Vicente. The Hacienda Asperri, along with the tenants, is a miniature society where Luis may have first witnessed this communal problem. Don Vicente sees power as something a person should be thankful for if bestowed upon him and that he should use it to his heart's content. Going with the flow is how it should be according to him. It doesn't matter whose lives are jeopardized just as long as themselves, the Asperris, are favored by this power. He believes that power—be it financial or political—is a measure of one's strength, which draws the heavy line between the rich and the poor through the discriminatory laws imposed by the former.
"Their lives—what about mine and yours?" … "I am not saying that you should be an opportunist, but at the same time you cannot go against the wave…the laws are made by the strong—not by the weak." (p. 107-108)
Dantes, on the other hand, epitomizes the second outlook, in which power is seen as a tool for establishing a transformation in the society. He deems himself as an embodiment of salvation who shall liberate the lowly poor, whom he considers stupid nonetheless. So whoever is up there, their principles would always wind up disparaging the poor. In a way, the people are shut in a land where they are simply being cashed in on to satisfy the fancies of the powerful.
LUIS ASPERRI – Just an inkling, the name Asperri may have been derived from the word "aspiration". And Luis is too idealistic for his own good. However, he portrays the very nature of a human being—giving in to temptation, prone to weaknesses and imperfections, self-centeredness, pride, pretentiousness, the temper. He pretends or convinces himself that he knows something when in fact, he does not or he is mistaken. And this pretence all boils down to his ideals. He regards himself very differently from his father or at least that's what he believes so. He disapproves of his father's greed for power, but unconsciously becomes as grasping.
Despite his visions, he could be really dense and tends to be short-sighted at times. Whether they were realistic or not, these visions did not occur to him in terms of actually putting them into action until he finally got hold of his inheritance. He seemed to not have given them much thought before. He just kept flaunting these ideals but not as passionate as someone who is really willing to make a sacrifice.
"Manong—my brother, how beautifully you express yourself, but when you left Sipnget, when you left Mother, you left her forever. You were the son who was loved…but this love has not been returned…I had come to ask that this love which you said you had be expressed in sacrifice. But you were incapable of sacrifice…" (p. 173)
He was so much aware of the way the poor were being exploited in their own farm, blaming his father for this crime, when he knew very well that he would inherit everything to the last centavo or chunk of soil when the time comes. Now, if only he had planned out everything according to his so-called ideals when he still had all the time in the world, then perhaps, the moment the last breath has been snuffed out of his father's life, it might have worked out. It may not be that simple but at least his people would see, if not believe, that he wasn't like his old man. Because at some point, he was right—he couldn't simply give away everything he had without someone who could be a moderator or else those who would be receiving it might start another riot. Again, it's human nature. The oppressed may have one goal and that is to oust those people up there but there's also one trait that would always be present in the picture—greed. And Luis was worried that everything he had envisioned would simply go to waste. He probably wanted to see to it that everything went well. So he also had to be there supervising.
"…I agree with you that the land must go to the people who farm it—but how will they progress without someone like me to give them money when they need it? Why must they spend so much on fiestas when it is unnecessary? Who will sell their products? Who will teach them about farm management, fertilizers, and crop rotation? These problems cannot be solved with guns." (p. 171)
Then again, this could be a good alibi for an ulterior motive he still refuses, or may be, ashamed to admit to himself. And it also proves his self-centeredness in one way or another. He may not be aware of it but he is actually belittling his people, especially his brother. He thinks that he would be a big loss if he is suddenly taken out of the picture. At this point in the story, he is already starting to become self-important, which he may have acquired from none other than his conceited publisher, Dantes.
DANTES (Eddie Gutierrez) – He is the epitome of a delusive futurist, having noble visions misformulated by skewed thinking. His philosophy was downright twisted. He considers himself as an advocate of liberalism but his ambitions are somewhat abstracted. He may be more systematic and careful than Luis procedurally, with his publishing firm and all, but his methods to rise and remain in power and continue his endless campaign for liberalism have involved the poor rather perversely, taking them for granted. He wanted pawns who can help and make him retain this power. But for him, it's still him and the others. He is so self-opinionated that he has closed his mind even to the most obvious issues, refusing to involve himself in matters that he thinks would not do him any good.
"That's the government's responsibility, Luis—not mine… No one can lecture to me about the rights or needs of the poor." (p. 137)
He may have great plans for the poor but gives too much credit to himself. Aside from being choosy, his charity requires a certain level of satisfaction from him before it can materialize. When giving out something, he makes sure that he would benefit from it as well—hundredfold, if possible, as long as it keeps to his standards. It's all about upholding his status and making sure that nothing happens to the organization, in which he's got so much faith. That's why he seeks the best people to join him in his quest to modernization. In the end, all forms of tribute must go to him.
For him, inequality is the most natural thing in the world. Discrimination would always be part of every society, regardless of the kind. Though he brags about the need for social change, he doesn't believe in the ability of workers to improve their status in the society. And those who are capable must have brains like the Western men. This cruel ideology he affirms and even takes the greatest pride in admitting it.
nimcod. "Bars" by nimcod.
bosniak. "Travel the Road" by bosniak.
F.S. (1988). My Brother, My Executioner. Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House.