Tangible truth of our humanity expressed in Hidalgo’s ‘Collected Stories & Tales’

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ENCOMPASSING all her distinctive voices throughout the years as a storyteller, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s newly released collection of stories are all drawn from moments that have lingered, offering glimpses into the most vulnerable and most tender part of the human soul.

It includes both her early and new, unpublished stories, as well as three of her other story compendiums and her two novels “Recuerdo” and “The Book of Dreams.”

“Though magic is essential to the tale, ‘magic’ need not mean the supernatural. What must always be present is enchantment, a kind of spell,” Hidalgo wrote in the preface.

This magic is evident in “Sylvia”, which tells the tale of two friends who lucidly recount how their lives are intertwined with Sylvia whose ghost continually haunts them, so much so that the narrator Victoria is able to say with such eloquence, “…to speak of Sylvia was to speak of ourselves as well.”

In “Confrontation,” we are drawn into the story of Cecilia, whose narration about Baguio City has such clarity it seems to jump right off the page.

But beyond this, what strikes the reader even more is the protagonist’s poignant moments with Mario where Hidalgo’s portrayal of college romance throbs with enchantment that the readers can connect with.

Viola in “Ballad of a Lost Season” recounts her childhood with Jaime, whom she reunites with in college.

As they reminisce about their time as children, their reunion promises a continuation in their interrupted romance. But instead, Viola concludes her feelings disquietly: “Soon, Jaime was just another season remembered.”

In their final parting, nothing grand happens. Yet it is precisely because of this ending that the story seems to have a vulnerability that cannot be dismissed.

In one of Hidalgo’s unpublished stories, titled “One Sunny Morning,” the reader is immersed through a woman’s day with her daughter. They visit her husband’s grave and later end up in a café.

The woman is momentarily distracted by a passing man she recognizes, but she concludes he is only a stranger; a “wishful thought.” At first there seem to be an air of hesitation, but as the story ends with the woman smiling brightly at her daughter, it feels like an exquisite portrayal of acceptance instead.

Hidalgo’s collection gives us a glimpse of how writing masterfully is made; to dissect the layers of our humanity and portray it in the most honest way.

Not merely enchanting us by weaving supernatural elements in her writing, Hidalgo does so much more by bringing the magic out of her characters’ ordinary lives.

The power that Hidalgo bestows upon her characters is their humanity to recognize the thing that unnerves them and make it their source of courage. This is the kind of spell that she gives us: to be tough without losing our tenderness.

Hidalgo is the director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies and Professor Emeritus of University of the Philippines in Diliman. She teaches creative writing and literature in the University.

“Collected Stories & Tales” was published early this year by the UST Publishing House. L.A.V. Dispo

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