27 May Voyaging with Sula (plus a giveaway!)
by Allana Luta
The book I finished before Sula’s Voyage was Eugene Y. Evasco’s Anina ng mga Alon, which I had bought at the 2015 Manila International Book Fair but decided to read only now. It was about Anina, a young Badjao, growing up in a society that does not completely understand or accept her people’s culture.
I had no idea what Catherine Torres’ story was about so you can imagine my surprise when another book with a similar theme was delivered to my hands just a couple of weeks after I read Anina. The universe is confusing but sometimes it compels you to read certain books at certain times and you realize later why that is.
Sula’s voyage begins somewhere in the Sulawesi Sea from which she was brought forth into this world. The details of her birth are shrouded in mystery but 15-year-old Sula has more pressing problems at the moment. She has just been expelled from her high school so to while her days away, she attends her dad’s college lectures on marine science. There she meets James and for the first time in her life Sula finds someone she can confide to and be herself with.
But like other unexplainable events in Sula’s life, James suddenly disappears. What’s more, her dad flies to the Caribbean for a study grant, leaving Sula and her mom to stay with her mom’s friends for a few weeks. There, Sula is forced to confront her past, from a strange childhood accident all the way to the beginning, unraveling the core of her identity.
Up in the clouds
Taken as a whole, Sula’s Voyage is at once an intimate story of a young girl discovering herself and a story of social issues usually pushed to the background. I love books that are about “the bigger picture” but are pegged as, say, a love story. In this case, Catherine Torres skillfully shows us a part of the Filipino culture that is not necessarily mainstream or the usual metro city experience through a modern Filipino teen’s point of view.
The story was written in a way that Sula’s real identity was kept unknown until the very end, which made me read the book uncharacteristically fast for a sloth reader. I also liked how Torres used actual local places. She didn’t use vague terms like a small town in an unnamed province. There were real locations which made imagining the environment a lot easier.
Blink and you still won’t miss it
I guess my only complaint is that (Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.) when the truth about Sula was finally revealed, the events happened rather quickly towards the end of the book. The fantastical elements of Sula’s story wasn’t explored as much as I had hoped for.
Also there was this one teeny, tiny typo which I hope they fixed in later prints. It was supposed to be Pablo but they printed Pedro. Anyway!
All in all, I thought this book was great. The storytelling was good and it (subtly) tackled issues beyond the usual young adult themes of romance and self-discovery. I wish there was a Filipino translation of this just to see if the narration flows differently when written in the local language. I’ve said before that I don’t really read books written in Filipino but I’m willing to read Sula’s Voyage again in Tagalog. ☁
Sula’s Voyage is one of the winners of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Awards. Together with Sophia N. Lee’s What Things Mean and Shi Min Xie’s Dragonhearted, it was launched TODAY (!), May 27, at the National Library of Singapore.
Read more about Sula’s Voyage here.
Allana Luta likes stories in all its forms, be it through words, images or sounds. You can find her hiding from real life @elivazeth and Living On Avenue Q.
GIVEAWAY We are giving away this set of Sula’s Voyage postcards, shipped all the way from Berlin, Germany by Catherine Torres herself! Art by Kathrin Honesta. To join, share this post on your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and comment below with the link to your post. One winner will be selected on June 5.
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Thanks to everyone who joined and see you all at the next giveaway!