‘Want’ by Cindy Pon, and how art changes the world

Want

WARNING: Spoiler-filled post! Read at your own risk.

First, The Crucible

I would like to talk about art and its capacity to change the world.

In 2005, a school in South Korea became the topic of controversy after reports surfaced that teachers and its principal sexually molested their deaf-mute students. A concerned teacher had already informed human rights groups, but it was only after the victims agreed to appear on TV networks that the police opened a formal investigation. Four out of the six perpetrators were sentenced to prison, while the two were discharged on the grounds that the statute of limitations of their crimes had already expired.

Based on reports I’ve read, two of those jailed were soon released after less than a year. Four out of the six perpetrators were then reinstated in the same school where they committed their crimes.

The 2011 film The Crucible (international title: Silenced), which is based on the events that had taken place, sparked a public outcry against the negligence of the local government. Having watched it, I also felt nothing but anger toward the court rulings that led to the release of these criminals.

You can watch the film’s trailer here. Fair warning, though: it can be disturbing.

Owing to the power of cinema, investigators reopened the case, with lawmakers drafting bills for the human rights of vulnerable groups. Two months after the film was released, Gwangju Inhwa School was shut down for good by the city, and in 2012, the court sentenced a former administrator to 12 years of prison time for sexually assaulting a student. The story is far from over, but the incident illustrates the power of art when it comes to informing people of the various injustices happening around the world.

Now, Want

In Cindy Pon’s Want, art also plays an important role in spreading awareness among the wealthy living in futuristic Taipei. Near the end, Daiyu, daughter of a money-hungry CEO, opens a theater with the aim of showing films that portray the beauty of past Taipei. After years of turning a blind eye to the polluted state of the country and its effects on the underprivileged, the wealthy citizens of Taiwan, those who can afford the high-tech full-body anti-dying suits produced by greedy CEO, begin to advocate for legislation to protect the environment and lessen the pollution.

It’s far from over, though. Jin, the CEO and father of Daiyu, plans to create a new facility outside of Beijing. This, after our main characters successfully blew up the old one. When asked by a reporter if he plans on focusing on the environment, especially since, you know, his daughter is advocating for it, Jin replies, “Childish, naive dreams. We humans are consumers; we use resources and we buy things.”

His response made my blood boil, but I can’t help but acknowledge the truth at the core of it. We cannot deny the fact that humans do consume products without taking the time to know how they were made. We use straws without comprehending where these sticks of plastic go as soon as we throw them away. It is an unfortunate tendency, one that corporations are highly aware of. These companies will do what it takes to shoot to the top. Manufacture items without a care for the environment, even influence governments to (coughs) withdraw from international agreements that mitigate global warming. I wouldn’t even be surprised if thousands of Jins around the world are also responsible for propaganda that attempts to discredit climate change.

Human tendency, of course, is counterbalanced by human desire. A desire for a better life and a cleaner world. The battle between these two concepts is what Want is all about. As its title suggests, the novel demonstrates a need for a pollution-free world, where people of all capacities can head outside and smell the air without the threat of illness.

The story allows us to ask: why have tendency and desire battle each other when they can be one and the same? The characters of Want have their own ways of contributing to the betterment of the world. Arun produces an antidote that cures a flu strain. Lingyi leads a resistance to eradicate the evil-doings of Jin. Daiyu, as already mentioned, uses her father’s money against him, opening a theater to spread awareness on how beautiful Taipei would be without all the pollution.

In the end, the novel transforms into the very same thing that defines The Crucible and Daiyu’s new theater.

Want is a call to arms.

Click here to get your hands on a copy.

Additional Notes:

  • As a Filipino, it makes me incredibly joyful to see a Filipino character portrayed so wonderfully. A character who is cool and nuanced at the same time. I imagine Vic wearing a Barong Tagalog and attending a party with a cup of lambanog in his hand.
  • Lingyi and Iris are my new OTP.
  • At the heart of Want is a story of friendship. My favorite chapter, the thirteenth one, was handled superbly as far as relationships are concerned. Here, Cindy Pon skillfully presents how the gang feels for another. This is where the novel opens our eyes to the truth behind it all. At the end of the day, we are reading about a group of people—characters with simple dreams of living a better life—who would stop at nothing to look after one another.
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Review: ‘Hex’ by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and Why I Gave Away My Copy

hex review

There’s something about teenagers and their propensity to see the world burn, as demonstrated in the 2011 science fiction TV series Terra Nova. The first episode instantly triggered my displeasure by having a group of teens don their rebellious hats and mess things up by way of predictable rascality, with me as a viewer struggling to find sufficient reason to root for these people. After one season, Terra Nova was cancelled.

But the teens in Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex are different. They are not presented as sneering youths who would soon gain redeeming qualities after ample character development. In a way, they are not into mischief just because they should be into mischief.

Could be peer pressure, or the ubiquitous presence of family problems. The young people of Hex have understandable reasons for (unintentionally) wreaking havoc on Black Spring. But let’s rewind for the sake of context, shall we?

You move into the sleepy town of Black Spring and you’re immediately warned by neighbors about Katherine van Wyler. You ignore her the way you would a village drunk wobbling toward the pub. But Katherine is different; her eyes and mouth had been sewn shut when she was executed in 1664. So unlike the village drunk, poor Katherine can’t even consume hard alcohol.

What’s irritating is that your real estate agent never mentioned anything about a village ghost.

A town as organized as Black Spring, of course, uses CCTV and a mobile app to keep track of her location. Aside from the need to invade the privacy of this poor ghost, the residents make it a point to follow certain rules:

  1. Ignore her at all costs. Just because she’s watching you shop for fresh eggs in the morning doesn’t mean she wants to talk about the weather.
  2. Never reveal her existence to someone who lives outside Black Spring. We don’t want the media and conspiracy theorist bloggers to start pestering us.
  3. Once you live in Black Spring, you live there for life. Spend time past the town’s border and you start feeling suicidal. In other words: you leave, YOU DIE.
  4. In case you haven’t read rule no. 1, never, as in never, remove the stitches from her face.

That part about not removing the stitches from her face? See third paragraph.

So when these juveniles finally commit the most unthinkable crime, pandemonium is served fresh and hot. It is at this point where the novel takes a darker turn, the story sounding like it’s being narrated straight from the depths of hell, as well as its basement. Having read numerous horror novels, I’ve never experienced one wherein I fear the act of actually holding the book itself. As soon as I read the closing paragraph, I quickly threw all 400 pages into my shelf.

Normally I fall asleep without much trouble, but I remember tossing and turning in bed that night. It could be because of mites, but who knows.

My copy of Hex, I gave away that weekend.

I didn’t want it inside my shelf. I didn’t want it mingling with my Sandersons and Rowlings. Didn’t want it spewing demonic dogma and affecting the pages of my other books.

Hopefully, this could be one of the best compliments Heuvelt would receive regarding his work. Hex, with its effective family drama and a complex supernatural entity, scared me. Too much, in fact, that the act of owning a copy itself was terrifying. At the end of the day, isn’t that what some horror writers desire to accomplish? To scare readers and give them sleepless nights?

To this day, I still can’t forget about the fate of Black Spring. I had read the American version, and I heard from somewhere that the original Dutch edition (also written by Heuvelt) has a different ending. Right now, my to-do list already has “must know what happened to Dutch version asap lol.”

I look forward to seeing the book’s upcoming film adaptation, but you know what’s better than a film adaptation? Cosplays of Katherine van Wyler. Or memes. Whichever comes first.

Bacon ipsum…

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