JUST as when history seems to be fading, Frank Tejada’s The Treasures of Lamon Bay (UST Publishing House, 2001) brings the past to life and evokes the harshness of the Japanese invasion through the viewpoint of a 17-year-old boy, reliving painful memories and drastic life transformations.

Set in 1940s, the novel tells the story of Max Galvan, who joins a guerrilla movement and in the process loses not only his close friends and family but also his identity.

From being a simple Lucena lad to a businessman and a guerrilla, he becomes the most wanted smuggler in the country but eventually emerges as a hero.

The story begins with the surprise attack of the Japanese on an air base near Lucena, which the invaders later use as an entry point to Manila. The Galvan family are then forced to leave their home and business in Lucena and flee to safety on Alabat Island. Little do they know that what they thought as a haven is actually a Japanese camp.

This prompts Max to set aside his schooling and dream of becoming a doctor. He knows that unless the war ends, his dreams will not be realized. Harboring bitterness and hatred toward the Japanese army, he and his friends decide to blow up a Japanese ship scheduled to pass through Lamon Bay. When they successfully bomb Ina Maru, the enemy’s ship, a new path opens for him—the life of an outlaw.

After the war, his life seems meaningless. He then engages in the smuggling business and assumes a new identity, “Magal.”

For years as a smuggler, he feels empty and isolated until he receives a letter from Ahmed, the son of the man whom he had once saved from the burning Ina Maru, suggesting that he retrieve the treasures lost in the shipwreck. This marks the start of his resurrection from the black market trade in which he had become ruined.

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Max is tasked to retrieve and bringing the treasures secretly to Sumatra. His journey then becomes a kind of soul search—he meets new acquaintances, encounters pirate-like challenges, and endures storms at sea. With his new mission, his relationship with Lamon Bay comes full circle—it is in the bay where he first dreamed of becoming a doctor, where the dream sinks with the Ina Maru, and where it resurfaces with the lost treasures of Sumatra.

Tejada says in his preface that the novel represents “real feelings for real experiences and depicts the harshness of life for those whose world is turned upside-down by war.” Although the author uses historical events such as the Japanese occupation as part of his plot, the pain and emptiness of the protagonist, Max, could not be felt in the book. The author’s narration of the whole story does not evoke any feeling of what he wants his readers to feel. And perhaps, this is because Tejada used a third-person perspective instead of the first person point of view.

But Tejada weaves the story well. The story itself is very interesting and unique. But he fails to portray the story in such a way that the readers would have a clear picture of how it is to endure an antagonistic environment, getting separated from loved ones, and living a meaningless life. The Japanese occupation is one of the darkest times of our history, but in this novel it seems that the feeling of fear and pain is not dominant at all.

For his first attempt in writing fiction, Tejada uses a good historical backdrop and interesting materials, but sadly, his narration lacks the emotional connection with the readers that should have turned this into a better story.

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