InfernoBy Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The story found itself in Google and Yahoo. The Yahoo story came from AP. “Dan Brown’s description of Manila as ‘the gates of hell’ in the American novelist’s latest book has not gone down well with officials in the Philippine capital,” it said. And goes on to note MMDA chair Francis Tolentino’s protestations over it.
The Google story was written by someone who obviously hadn’t read the book, identifying the two main characters, Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks, as having experienced the ordeal. In fact, it was just Sienna. It quoted
Tolentino’s letter to Brown thus:
“While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction, we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis. We are displeased of how you have used Manila as a venue and source of a character’s breakdown and trauma, much more her disillusionment in humanity.” Manila isn’t “the gates of hell,” he said, it is the “entry to heaven.”
Brown hasn’t written Tolentino back if only to say that he is displeased with the latter for using “of” and not “with” after “displeased.” A minor lesson in needing to be a little more careful with grammar, particularly when berating an author even of pulp fiction.
I don’t know if Tolentino has read “Inferno” or if somebody merely drew his attention to its apparently offending, or offensive, passages. It did strike me as amusing that the head of the MMDA and not the tourism secretary took up the cudgels for the city, notwithstanding that it also involves traffic. Brown’s character’s experience of Manila is to be found in the latter part of the book:
“(W)hen the group settled in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—she could only gasp in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale. For every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes. Manila had six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade whose workers consisted primarily of young children…. All around her she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation… human beings become animals.
“‘I’ve run through the gates of hell.’”
Yes, I’ve read the book. I read everything from Dan Brown to David Mitchell and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose “Cloud Atlas” and “The Great Gatsby” respectively have recently been turned into movies, as doubtless “Inferno” will be. I confess I was quite taken aback when I got to the part—it gets worse by the way. Some months ago, I had also read Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon,” which is set in great part in Manila—the character is trying to set up a giant communications hub in Corregidor and lives in Manila Hotel—and has a more sympathetic view of the city amid its squalor. (Somebody told me Stephenson, a truly brilliant writer, was a denizen of Ermita while he was here).
But, well, that’s Brown’s view, and the way things are, it’s not an entirely skewed one, give or take an exaggeration or two—Manila’s traffic doesn’t get snarled for six hours, only five-and-a-half. I’ve described the slums in Manila along the same lines, paraphrasing Fitzgerald who said “the rich are different from you and me” by saying “the poor are different from you and me.” True enough, there are scales of deprivation that are as incomprehensible or inconceivable as the scales of plenitude. Look at the ratholes that pass for habitation in any of the slums of the city—and they’re right in the middle of us, they do not just exist in the fringes—and you’ll be horrified too. Look at the mass of huddled humanity begging outside the Quiapo Church, without light, without help, without hope, and you’ll recoil too.
The fact that we no longer do so, having become inured to it, only makes it worse. In fact, the fact that we are, well, displeased when others do so and attempt to conjure a vision of the pearly gates where others see only the sign “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” only makes it worse.
But the really more interesting thing here is this: I never quite thought Tolentino would be the first to object to the book, I thought the Catholic Church would. Brown has a way of stepping on its toes, and he’s done so this time around over something pretty close to its heart. Indeed over something the local Church has just been embroiled in. Which is RH.
I beg your indulgence for this bit of a spoiler, but the Inferno in this book is plain overpopulation. It’s been growing alarmingly exponentially over the last decades, which the kontrabida believes will wipe out humanity in the next 100 years. The extinction event will not come from a pandemic, or nuclear war, or a cataclysm, it will come from—people. More people than the planet can possibly support, a mass of humanity, their flesh entangled in confined space, weeping and teeth-gnashing, turning into animals in the face of hopelessness. A scene straight from Dante.
A thing that has become inevitable—or so the villain believes, though that will be attributed to Brown himself—not least because of religious institutions that will brook no impediment to going forth and multiplying.
Well, it’s just a couple of weeks since the book came out, that protest might soon be forthcoming.
Which in the end is rather silly. For crying out loud, “Inferno” is just a potboiler. It’s there to amuse—and supply a better guide to Florence, Venice and Istanbul than a brochure. Just strap yourself to the seat and enjoy the ride. It has more twists than a daang baluktot, plunging headlong at a pace that’s meant to not make you pause to think of plausibility and real life. I spent a sleepless night doing it last week, staggering up to real life next day having to write, the fumes of sleep still roiling in my head.
A real inferno, work.
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