Bookshelf of Memoirs


NOW in the bookstores are four memoirs written by, as one would expect, octogenarians who have much to tell about what they have been through before, during, and after the Pacific War. All of them had been with the academe but with divergent experiences in life that are compelling reading about. The reader looking for a holiday gift for a literate friend or relative may consider the following:

Two of these books deal largely with the Second World War with glimpses of their early years before Pearl Harbor:

Memories of the War Years by Helen Mendoza, published this year by Pantas Publishing and distributed by Popular Bookstore at Tomas Morato, Quezon City. Foremost authority on World War 2’s impact on the Philippines, Dr. RicardoTrota Jose said: “Helen experienced the war as a young girl, impressionable and still full of hope and wonder. So hers is a story of growing up in the midst of chaos and the threat of violence. Her memory is clear; she tells her story crisply. The characters come alive, not as faceless figures but as real people with names. . . Hers are the memory of youth, able to see goodness as the world around her was crumbling.” Dr. Helen Mendoza was chair and professor of the English Department in UP Diliman.

In Binondo, Once Upon a War by Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio, published by The Manila Times, 2014, is really a novel-like story of the author from childhood in Manila, through the war years, and her many triumphs in fiction, drama, and the theater while teaching in UP Diliman where she is a university professor emeritus. She should have been National Artist for Theatre but for politics in the selection process. She is acknowledged as the “Grande Dame of Southeast Asian Children’s Theatre,” with numerous accolades and awards here and abroad. Of her art, the late National Artist for Literature Franz Arcellana said “she has passion, and in her, craft and courage have become one.”

Whose Side Are YouOn: Memoirs of a PMAer by Dante Simbulan, published this year by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance / Center for the Study of Social Change. This is an extraordinary memoir in that it is a searing indictment of the training of cadets in the Philippine Military Academy which has bred many notorious human rights violators. CriseldaYabes, journalist, wrote that Simbulan’s story “reveals much of the beginnings of our road to independence” while Dr. Carol Araullo counseled that young people seeking a military career must ask the question themselves in a “highly unequal and polarized Philippine society” on whose side are we on. National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera who was Dante’s colleague at UP and Ateneo saw him as a model for activists, young and old.

Red Poppies on the Road by Elmer Ordonez, published recently by Pantas and distributed by Popular Bookstore, was launched together with Helen Mendoza’s book. Red Poppies complements his autobiographical novel Snows of Yesteryear: A Family at War and Sentimental Education, published by UP Press, 2015, with the war years covered extensively albeit in creative nonfiction.


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