I DISCOVERED the bookshelves on our last day in Moalboal.
Visiting the coastal part of this southwestern municipality, our family had breakfast at the same table at an inn’s dining area. Aside from the generous soaking of sun, the table afforded a view of the parade of folks heading off for or returning from a swim or a dive.
Then on the last day, another family occupied the spot. Moving to another table, I picked a chair facing the interiors of the room, where I spotted against the wall three shelves of books slouching with the ease of pensioners.
Several of the titles are in German; the rest in English. German is the mother tongue of one of the owners and many of those drawn to nearby Pescador Island or the Sardine Run for leisure or research.
I could only flip through the water-warped pages of Peter Hoeg’s “Fräulein Smillas Gespür Für Schnee.” Although I know well from frequent rereading the story of a woman who understood ice better than other humans, I can translate only less than 10 words of German.
Locked out of the familiar by the unfamiliar. In another cabinet of books in a room overlooking the Hoan Kiem District or the Old Quarter of Hanoi, I found, among the hardcovers in English, a copy of Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood,” translated into Vietnamese.
Murakami has quite a following in Vietnam, with nearly all of his novels translated into the mother tongue.
When did I bring during a trip a novel written in Cebuano or Filipino? Never but twice, I spent a sleepless night in the 24/7 book shops of the Changi Airport, unable to decide which titles to squeeze into my backpack. English is not my mother tongue but among the shelves of books in English, I am at home in Changi.
In Yogyakarta, my friend and I, waiting for a downpour to cease, chatted with a local man who, delighted to discover we were not Indonesians but Filipinos, wanted to practice his grasp of English.
That image of the German edition of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” hovered when I bought the first books of 2021, all written by Filipinos.
One of the novels is Carla M. Pacis’s “Enrique El Negro,” a re-imagining of Enrique de Malacca who traveled with Ferdinand Magellan.
So little has been written about Apuy Yabon, he could very well not exist. Yet, when the 14-year-old slave bought by Magellan in Malacca returned to the islands of his birth, he eased into native life by way of the language.
“Hindi nagsasawa ang mga batang pakinggan ang aking kuwento (the children never grow tired of listening to my stories),” says the first but not the last person to, after circumnavigating languages, return at last to self.