The first time I picked up this novel, I thought it was just another historical novel showing your typical hero story – I’m glad I was wrong. Woman in a Frame clearly broke that stereotype in some ways. Growing up, I’ve become used to reading stories that simplified the theme of heroism in history. They were always about rebellion and oppression and they made situations appear to be either black or white. There was always the foreign villain and the hero who saves the day in the end. But we all know that in real life, shades of gray exist between what we believe to be right or wrong and not all stories are perceived equally.
Woman in a Frame, to me, is a quiet yet surprising book. It shows the life of Marcela, a daughter of an artist, during the Spanish colonization. I describe it as “quiet” simply because there are parts of it that illustrate the mundane life of a regular Filipino during that particular era. It clashes with the typical stories in history books – historic events are romanticized and reduced to nothing but disjointed rebellions and issues of oppression. But make no mistake in thinking that this book doesn’t tackle interesting issues. While you fall in love with Marcela and the simplicity of her life, the story suddenly takes interesting twists and turns, hinting themes of rebellion, injustice, social class, and even feminism. Though the book doesn’t dwell on these as much, the suggestions it makes leaves much room for discussion and reflection. In the same way that the events awaken Marcela’s consciousness, the reader is also called to think about his or her own perspective – if we can decide what kind of picture to paint in our minds when we think about our own experiences with history.
Perhaps my only disappointment with this book is how the characters of Raquel and Sining were portrayed. I guess I was hoping for more development and depth rather than just seeing one aspect of them.
For TeachersReading this book in class will help students discover and appreciate the art form of Letras y Figuras. The Simbulan family in the novel were artists and this type of artwork was one of their specialties. The book will introduce you to different types of women in the Philippines. I like the variety of roles since it doesn’t necessarily make one type of woman more important than the other. For history buffs – Agueda Kahabagan, a revolutionary, also plays a brief role in the story.
Social class is also one of the central themes in the novel. More often than not, we always talk about the injustice that exists between Spaniards and Filipinos. What I like about this book is that it also talks about the discrimination that were experienced by the Chinese-Filipinos and Spanish-Filipinos. It reveals that the issue of social class wasn’t just two-fold, it was something more complex and complicated.
Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera Falgui is available in local bookstores or through Adarna House Publishing.