Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You: A New Translation of Jose Rizal’s Seminal 19th Century Novel

The Noli, as it is fondly known in the Philippines, is our great 19th century novel. Written in Spanish in the waning days of the Spanish colonial regime, by a mestizo doctor named Jose Rizal, it is the only novel that directly addresses the evils of colonialism in my home country. It features cruel Spanish administrators, a lascivious priest, flighty aristocrats, alienated intellectuals, and one beautiful and virginal Filipina, the iconic Maria Clara.

Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, came to Rizal through his work translating Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. He pulled a thread; the thread led him to Luis Francia, who unraveled the story of the novel. Which ultimately led to Augenbraum taking on the project of translating the Noli for Penguin Classics.

And, as far as serendipity goes, it’s also why Elda Rotor, a Filipina graduate of George Washington University, is now Executive Editor of Penguin Classics. The publication of the Noli is her first project.

Rizal is my countryman. His execution was ordered by a barbaric Spanish governor general who was soon re-called to Spain. I’ve never been sure what to think of him, since he spurned the advances of Andres Bonifacio, who approached him when he was about to launch the Filipino revolution. Rizal was a man of ideas; he did not endorse the violent overthrow of the Spanish regime.

Yet his words proved far more dangerous than the bolos Bonifacio raised at the Cry of Balintawak.

Coming in October: Harold reading from his translation at Manilatown Center, Kearney Street, San Francisco, Oct. 11, 6 PM. See you there.

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