Bookbed reviews: ‘A Natural History of Empire’ by Dominic Sy

by Jodesz Gavilan


Fraying at the edge of a life lived uselessly, an old man ponders over things that were and things that may have been. A vanishing guerilla, a knife fight across the ocean, a chat with a friend come back from the dead. In these tales of doubles, delusions, and self-deceit, A Natural History of Empire challenges us to question who we truly are and who we want to become. Available via Ateneo Press / Read reviews: Goodreads


“When he succeeded in struggling for another day, he knew he could do all these things only because he knew the future was possible, because he had definite proof that it was possible, because he had seen the world where the true revolution had succeeded while his comrades then and now, his friends who were infinitely braver than he would ever be, who fought against greater forces knowing only this small and bleak and desperate world, persisted without ever knowing certainty.”

There is a level of paranoia triggered by the stories in A Natural History of Empire by Dominic Sy, pushing you to doubt your perception of reality, but at the same time comforting amid the unknown.

Maybe it’s because of the familiarity of the incidents depicted? That even if the stories are set in different decades, characters and situations might as well exist in the present. I guess this realization says so much about the country’s history and influence, and likely the continuing grip of colonial powers.

The first and last stories in this collection talk about memories, mistakes, and the things we do to evade acknowledging the uncertainty of the future. It’s fitting that Sy started with a story of a man’s attachment to the past and ended with a story tackling a man’s motivation through life. But man, the last few paragraphs of the final story wrecked me and sent me into an existential crisis past midnight. I didn’t want it to end.


I loved this book. I loved how it unpacked history and the notion of how the past is key to how we determine our place in the present and future. What came to mind while reading the stories was a Karl Marx quote that says:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”


This review is originally published @jodeszgavilan on Instagram. Follow her for more book recommendations. Read our Review Policy here.

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