PERSONAL essays tend to be subjective, but for award-winning writer Kerima Polotan, they can be avenues for the plain and simple truth.

Polotan’s third collection of essays, The True and the Plain (University of the Philippines Press, 2005), a 2006 National Book Award finalist for essay, collects her published works from the early ‘70s to the present.

The collection starts with “Estrella,” her essay for fellow writer Estrella Alfon, whom she describes as “a thoroughly desirable woman in whom lived…an exquisite trust in the value of human love and life.” Alfon was a Cebu-based creative writer who penetrated the then male-dominated literary scene in 1935. She is best known for her story “Magnificence,” popular for its innocent language and storytelling of an otherwise delicate topic of child molestation.

The rest of the essays show the different roles Polotan assumes in her life. Twice she writes about being a grandmother in “Early Encounter” and “Games.” In the latter, she describes her ironical submissiveness to her two-year-old granddaughter whenever they play. “We play with a minimum of props, leaping from one thing to another. She leads and I happily follow.”

As a mother, Polotan narrates her frustrations in “My Misbegotten Christmases,” a humorous commentary on the needlessness of all the Christmas hoopla. She goes into a colorful description of her not-so-pleasant past Christmases. An example is when a woman volunteered to cook lechon for her family’s noche buena, only for them to discover that the pig was still raw. Polotan ended up chasing the woman “in and out of the devious backstreets of Pasay.”


The author takes a serious tone in the essay “Many Things in a Life,” a recollection of her encounter with a troubled friend whom she meets four or five times a year. As they grew old, they realized that the problems they gave their parents in their youth were returned to them by their children.

“Apartments” spans the time the author’s family moved out of their old house into another, and moved out again. It adopts a funny tone on the surface, but seriously points to the loss of privacy experienced by apartment tenants: “The soul must have room to move in, where it is quiet and dark and private, where neighbors don’t intrude with their sneezes and their grunts, where walls protect and not reveal.”

Polotan also speaks of her travels in “Easy Rider,” that tells of her trip from Davao to General Santos, and “South Road,” where she takes a trip to Bicol down memory lane. She reveals her dream getaways in “Vacations I Never Will Get to Go On,” which sounds almost like a travel brochure, only better, as it reflects her perky writing style.

Polotan’s witty style coupled with humor and sometimes sarcasm is palpable in her essays. She makes use of vivid images in her past, taking her readers back in time, whether she was “in a checkered blue dress, in high heels, with stockings,” or in “thick-heeled, ankle-strapped shoes, and puffed sleeves and peplums, and layers and layers of stiffly starched crinolines.” She makes use of her colorful and sometimes emotional experiences to bring back life to the past. The tone Polotan employs is distinctly hers, making the readers feel as if she is speaking inside their heads.

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Indeed, there is no better title for Polotan’s The True and the Plain. Her writings are the plain and simple truths of her world, of a reality that was. Her reflections express the wisdom of a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and a friend learned in time.


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