Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Review of Cecilia's Diary by Erma Cuizon

Bird by bird (Sunstar Weekend)

Cecilia’s Diary
By Erma M Cuizon

When was the (first and/or) last time you read a real-life diary in a book form?

There are memoirs but they are actually written today in retrospect or in retirement. A memoir isn’t what we’re talking about here. Even the Diary of Anne Frank isn’t quite it.

It’s different when the diary has been written by a local girl in a normal time and now she is a novelist. The diary belongs to a Cebuana fictionist Cecilia Manguera Brainard who now lives in California and teaches writing at UCLA. It’s one she first wrote when she was 15.

From the diary, you could see she has been a girl in town, a neighbor, a classmate, part of the gang, so familiar and real as though she were there in your past. As a teener at 18, she had regularly gone to places and times that aren’t there anymore. She went dancing at Sandtrap in Magellan Hotel (where the late pianist Marcial Sanson played), the Discotheque somewhere else, or listened to nightclub singers at Eddie’s Log Cabin and watched the city from a romantic view above the skylines at Diamond Tower. She has gone to all the fun get-together in upper town when parties were held in homes, if not in Casino Espanol only, such as the Bachelor and Fermina annual gigs. There was a drive-in nook called Dairy Queen.

Just off the press, Cecilia’s Diary 1962-1969 (published Anvil), is a memory piece for Cebuanos who grew up in that era. It’s so honest, you feel as though you’ve peeped into a private room. More than that, you’re in the room, the young girl’s distress and joys are yours.

The diary of Cecilia will remain to be a diary of a colegialia, originally written in long hand in 1962. She has hardly changed anything in it except correct some grammar lapses and changed some names.

But more than that, the diary is a look back at a special decade, the 60s. That was a time when young girls wore party dresses made of breathless organdy that went with “flowers, ribbons, pearls, diamonds”. Jack Kennedy was assassinated, Chubby Checker came, interesting Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in town, Birdman of Alcatraz was shown, guileless children played jackstones, the Vietnam was stepped up.

With this as backdrop, Cecilia kept wondering whether she’d become a nun, or get married, or even be a psychiatrist (after watching a crazy woman in Danao).

The diary changes as Cecilia matures, even in the way she wrote then. A 1966 entry says: “Time, what is time— death, bird, growing up, growing old. Just a stupid old cycle. Like water which dries up, gets carried by the soft fluffy clouds, and falls down again to the waiting earth.”

Yes, someone else’s diary could be like your own story.


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