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F(rancisco) Sionil Jose Biography

Nationality: Filipino. Born: Rosales, Pangasinan, 1924. Education: The University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Litt.B. 1949. Career: Staff member, Commonweal, Manila, 1947-48; assistant editor, United States Information Agency, U.S. Embassy, Manila, 1948-49; associate editor, 1949-57, and managing editor, 1957-60, Manila Times Sunday magazine, and editor of Manila Times annual Progress, 1958-60; editor, Comment quarterly, Manila, 1956-62; managing editor, Asia magazine, Hong Kong, 1961-62; information officer, Colombo Plan Headquarters, Ceylon, 1962-64; correspondent, Economist, London, 1968-69. Since 1965 publisher, Solidaridad Publishing House, and general manager, Solidaridad Bookshop, since 1966 publisher and editor, Solidarity magazine, and since 1967 manager, Solidaridad Galleries, all Manila. Lecturer, Arellano University, 1962, University of the East graduate school, 1968, and De La Salle University, 1984-86, all Manila; writer-in-residence, National University of Singapore, 1987; visiting research scholar, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan, 1988. Consultant, Department of Agrarian Reform, 1968-79. Founder and national secretary, PEN Philippine Center, 1958. Awards: U.S. Department of State Smith-Mundt grant, 1955; Asia Foundation grant, 1960; National Press Club award, for journalism, 3 times; British Council grant, 1967; Palanca award, for journalism, 3 times, and for novel, 1981; ASPAC fellowship, 1971; Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio award, 1979; Cultural Center of the Philippines award, 1979; City of Manila award, 1979; Magsaysay award, 1980; East-West Center fellowship (Honolulu), 1981; International House of Japan fellowship, 1983; Outstanding Fulbrighters award, 1988, for literature; Cultural Center of the Philippines award, 1989, for literature.



The Pretenders. Manila, Solidaridad, 1962; published as The Samsons: The Pretenders; and, Mass, New York, Modern Library, 2000.

Tree. Manila, Solidaridad, 1978.

My Brother, My Executioner. Manila, New Day, 1979.

Mass. Amsterdam, Wereldvenster, 1982; London, Allen and Unwin, 1984; as Mis, Manila, Solidaridad, 1983.

Po-on. Manila, Solidaridad, 1985.

Ermita. Manila, Solidaridad, 1988.

Spiderman. Manila, Solidaridad, 1991.

Sin. Manila, Solidaridad, 1994; published as Sins, New York, Random House, 1996.

Dusk. New York, Modern Library, 1998.

Don Vincente: A Novel in Two Parts (contains Tree and My Brother, My Executioner). New York, Modern Library, 1999.

Short Stories

The Pretenders and Eight Short Stories. Manila, Regal, 1962.

The God Stealer and Other Stories. Manila, Solidaridad, 1968.

Waywaya and Other Short Stories from the Philippines. Hong Kong, Heinemann, 1980.

Two Filipino Women (novellas). Manila, New Day, 1982.

Platinum and Other Stories. Manila, Solidaridad, 1983.

Olvidon and Other Stories. Manila, Solidaridad, 1988.

Three Filipino Women (novellas) . New York, Random House, 1992.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Chief Mourner" (serial), in Women's Weekly (Manila), 11 May-10 July 1953.

"The Balete Tree" (serial), in Women's Weekly (Manila), 4 March 1954-6 July 1956.


Questions. Manila, Solidaridad, 1988.


(Selected Works). Moscow, 1977.

A Filipino Agenda for the 21st Century. Manila, Solidaridad, 1987.

Conversations with F. Sionil Jose, edited by Miguel Bernad. Manila, Vera-Reyes, 1991.

In Search of the Word: Selected Essays of F. Sionil Jose. Manila, de la Salle University Press, 1998.

Editor, Equinox 1. Manila, Solidaridad, 1965.

Editor, Asian PEN Anthology 1. Manila, Solidaridad, 1966; New York, Taplinger, 1967.


Critical Studies:

F. Sionil Jose and His Fiction edited by Alfredo T. Morales, Manila, Vera-Reyes, 1990.

* * *

F. Sionil Jose holds two distinctions in Philippine writing in English, indeed in Philippine writing in general. He is the only writer who has produced a series of novels that constitute an epic imaginative creation of a century of Philippine life, and he is perhaps the most widely known abroad, his writings having been translated into more foreign languages than those of any other Filipino writer. (The only exception would be that greatest of all Filipino writers and patriots, Jose Rizal, martyred in the struggle against Spanish domination.)

We are introduced to the early world of Sionil Jose in Po-on. The earliest novel in terms of chronology, it is set in the later decades of the 19th century during the decaying years of the Spanish empire. The latter still retained some struggling remnants of its colonial civil services, including some manorial lords in the plains of central Luzon island, descendants of the Basque and Spanish-Catalan settlers, served by immigrants from the deep Ilocano country up north. In one scene a Basque grandee comes to the town of Rosales, when the settlement is still unorganized, and designates the limits of his domain with his whip.

After the Philippine revolution, which saw the change of colonial masters from Spanish to American, no significant change occurred in the feudal relations of the agrarian economy. In fact, free trade was instituted between the Philippines and the United States, benefiting the native landowners and their hirelings and the leaders of industry and their subalterns while impoverishing the tenants of the land and the laborers in small-scale industries. Such relationships are examined in Tree. Despite all the injustices they suffered during the American colonial regime, when war came in December 1941, the tenants and their leaders decided to fight the Japanese invaders as guerrillas, hoping that at the end of the war they would be afforded improved living conditions.

My Brother, My Executioner occurs at this point in Sionil Jose's epic narrative. It deals with the activities of two half-brothers, one a dispossessed guerrilla. With more than enough property to keep his family in comfort, the bourgeois half-brother can afford to entertain liberal ideas and even consider embracing progressive ways, but his dispossessed half-brother avenges himself by destroying the more fortunate.

The master-servant, lord-slave relationship may also be found in the industrial world in Manila. One specific case is Antonio Samson in The Pretenders. Overcoming the disadvantages of rural birth, Samson manages to earn a doctorate at a prestigious New England university, afterwards planning to return to his hometown sweetheart, with whom he had fathered a child. Instead, he is snatched away by a powerful agro-industrial baron and married off to his socialite daughter. Samson is now made to move in elevated social circles and do work he had not prepared himself to do. He has frequent spats with his wife who, he discovers to his dismay, has been engaged in affairs with other men. Determined to end his shame, Samson throws himself under a train.

We are afforded a rich composite picture of the Philippines of the mid-to late twentieth century in Mass, which covers the years before and after the proclamation of martial law in 1972. A few of the old names reappear, but new characters emerge—student activists, women's liberation movement followers, drug addicts, intellectuals. The major character is the bastard son of Antonio Samson, Pepe Samson, now living in the slums of Tondo. He is a faithful follower of a former anti-Japanese Huk (Communist rebel) commander now devoted to local affairs, and a student leader at a university in Manila. A reform movement that started with protest at the increase in oil prices becomes a struggle for human rights, student rights, tenant's rights, women's liberation, and eventually a heterogeneous mass of protests manipulated by fraudulent leaders. After the failure of the intended uprising, one of the dedicated characters decides to return to central Luzon to seek his roots and build anew.

Sins looks back on the history of the Philippines during much of the twentieth century through the eyes of the amoral Don Carlos Corbello, or C.C., who took part in that history and, on his deathbed, is reaping much of what he sowed. Dusk jumps back to the time of the Spanish-American War, whose Philippine theatre (as opposed to the Cuban theatre) is largely unknown to most Americans. In the course of Sionil Jose's work, which calls to mind Balzac's "Human Comedy" if on a smaller scale, we get an increasingly defined picture of Philippine history over more than a century. We are shown all kinds of people, from the moral cowards to the fiercely heroic, from the ferociously greedy to the selflessly philanthropic. In the face of all the tragic events in their lives, many of the people in Sionil Jose's epic are still able to say "We shall overcome."

—Leopoldo Y. Yabes,

updated by Judson Knight

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments: to Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - Personal