08 January 2011


Dear Mr. Colm Tóibín,

There is nothing that I have read this year that is quite as beautiful as The Blackwater Lightship. Nothing as beautiful as it, that is, until perhaps I decide this year to again try reading To the Lighthouse, a novel I’d encountered at an age when I was too young to understand it, and to which surely your novel nods.

I have read The Blackwater Lightship twice now—the first time, as soon as I could, and the second time after I decided I’d waited long enough to read it again. I tell you, it was certainly worth the wait. My copy had come from New York, from a good friend who believes, like I do, that my life would be better with books. The same friend had also sent me The Master (signed by you), Mothers and Sons, The Heather Blazing, and The Story of the Night, all of which, unfortunately, I lost last year when a fire ripped through our ancestral home in Manila. I was able to save The Blackwater Lightship because I took it with me on an earlier trip out of town.

It is pretty hard to find copies of your other books here, although I do recall seeing your most recent novel—Brooklyn—in Bestsellers, an unimaginatively named bookstore at the annex of SM North EDSA. Indeed it’s a shame that, while there seems to be no supply shortage of Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson books for young readers to go gaga over, the one copy of Brooklyn has to be found somewhere in the armpit of the metro, right next to the public bathroom at the tail end of an extension building of a shopping mall that stands at the northern terminus of the main highway, about a fifteen-minute walk from the last station of the MRT. Which isn’t fair, because I like to think of myself as a young reader, too. I rescued that copy of Brooklyn, just so you know!

But back to The Blackwater Lightship. There were tears in my eyes rereading that, and I’m a pretty hard bastard. Perhaps I recognized in the story something that was close to me. The Philippines, as I am sure you know, is at least as Catholic as Ireland. Not that reading the novel said anything about religion, no;  only, a story involving the loves and faiths and losses and resentments of members of a family is always bound to strike a chord with me.

Do excuse my unsuccessfully (stammeringly) trying to get to the heart of a novel. I’ll stop here, lest more pour forth. I am no more capable of talking about literature than articulating what makes good food good. I do like to cook—and I like writing even more. And today I’m writing you, Mr. Tóibín, to say thanks very much for a story that has helped me more effectively get through these days, and for proving that life indeed is better with books. Vampire novels withstanding.

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