Thursday, December 1, 2022




Kapwa’s Novels 

(Booksby Press, Parma, Ohio, 2022)


Following in the footsteps of Laurence Sterne, James Joyce. Samuel Beckett and B.S.Johnson, Eileen R. Tabios continues to challenge and redefine the traditional form of the novel. In her helpful introduction she begins by explaining the concept of Kapwa, a Filipino word that expresses a recognition of a shared identity, an inner self, with other individuals. It is one of those words whose meaning is not easily rendered into English and yet is instantly recognizable and understood in its native homeland. As a philosophy, Tabios states that Kapwa has come to underpin many of the genres in which she writes including, most recently, the novel.

Tabios gives the reader a synopsis of each of her two novels, DOVELION: A Fairy Tale for Our Times and COLLATERAL DAMAGE, and then discusses their structure with reference to the concept of Kapwa. A short section headed “Dolls as Avatars” gives us an insight into the discipline she employs as part of her writing process.* 

DOVELION’s structure reflects “Kapwa-time” when there is no past, present or future. The fairy-tale element is given credence by the fact that each section begins with the phrase “once upon a time”. Since Kapwa is concerned with interconnection, the novels sections are dated, but not chronologically, and the story begins and ends on the same day. Real-life historical events thread themselves through the story-line and there are also traces of an autobiographical side to the work, an element that Tabios has coined “autofiction”. 

COLLATERAL DAMAGE follows a “multiverse, modular structure”. The multiverse aspect is illustrated through the presentation of at least three worlds: the first world that presents the author’s thoughts, the second world that presents the story of protagonist  Krii, and the third world that presents a short story whose themes touch on shared topics between all three. Writing prompts allow for readers to create their own endings should they wish to do so. In a slightly different way, B.S. Johnson also gave his readers a certain degree of improvisatory freedom when he wrote his novel The Unfortunates. (Twenty-seven sections are presented, unbound, in a small box, to be shuffled and read in whatever random order the reader choses to do so). The modular aspect to COLLATERAL DAMAGE is manifested by the way in which characters reappear in all three worlds, underscoring Kapwa’s emphasis on interconnectedness. From the world of theoretical physics, Tabios draws an analogy with “string theory” (the allowance for possible parallel universes) as a fitting source of inspiration for her Kapwa-related writings.

An extract from each of her two novels is presented in the book. The excerpt from DOVELION: A Fairy Tale for Our Times was previously published in Pagsulat Sa Mga Bulaklak / When Writing for Flowers (2021) edited by Keana Aguila Labra in the U.S.  The excerpt from COLLATERAL DAMAGE was previously published in The Deadbeat Hotel (Autumn 2021) edited by Tom Boulton in the U.K. While DOVELION manifested her “Kapwa Poetics”, her second novel, COLLATERAL DAMAGE expands Kapwa’s possibilities for the novel form.

The sample from DOVELION was created from previous drafts of the novel that were re-fashioned into a standalone short story. The sample from COLLATERAL DAMAGE is its fourteenth chapter. 



(* As an aside, 'Dolls as Avatars' also reminded me of my first encounter with a writer. When I was a pupil at Repton School in Derbyshire, my English teacher, who could see that I was interested in English literature, arranged for me to go and visit a freelance writer who happened to be living in the village. His name was Don Shaw. He wrote a lot of screenplays for radio and television and later for the theatre. He was a regular writer for the popular crime series called 'Z cars' which was televised here in the sixties. He gave me a tremendous welcome and showed me how to set out a script for a radio play and a TV drama. In his study, on his wall by his writing desk, he had photographs of the actors who played in 'Z cars'.  By studying them in their acting roles, he was able to discipline himself in his writing and get inside their characters.)




Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey (Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017); Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019) and The Gloucester Fragments (Littoral Press, 2022). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.

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