With such a high literacy rate, one would expect readership in the Philippines to be just as high, that bookshops would always be filled with well-read people browsing through heaps and heaps of books stacked on the shelves. That scene is likely to be true at the bestseller fiction sections of bookstores, yet the Filipiniana sections would always be, well, empty.
In the heart of the urban jungle, Manila, a city of rich history and culture that is equally tainted with chaos, there lies a bookshop that has withstood the test of time for almost 50 years, that dreams of saving Filipinos from ignorance and idiocy. Solidaridad stands on the busy street of Padre Faura, a stone’s throw away from a popular shopping mall. Owned by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José, the author envisions a society where people yearn to read and discover more about their very own literature. Plastered on Solidaridad’s window is a sign that reads: “A call for Honesty and Integrity as the foundation of Filipino society. Speak out! Evil Prospers Where Good Men are Silent.”
[blockquote author=”F. Sionil José” pull=”left”] “Writers are exalted because of what they wrote.” [/blockquote]
Because of our heavily influenced history, Filipino literature has not been very popular in the country. There are limited outlets for creative writers in the country and José has dedicated his life to changing this through his own multitude of books. Once he mentioned, “Writers are exalted because of what they wrote.” But despite his numerous award- winning literary contributions to Filipino society, he wanted to keep his bookstore alive to become an avenue for striving Filipino writers to have their works seen, read and sold. Solidaridad brings us the best books that won’t be found anywhere else, such as José’s works translated into different languages, and it even claims to carry some titles that have been pulled out of major stores because of their controversial content, like the Hour Before Dawn by Marites Dañguilan-Vitug.
Solidaridad is truly a treasure trove with the amount of rare books found in its little space. The Filipiniana section is its pride and glory, but it also carries foreign titles handpicked by José himself. People from all walks of life—students, researchers, professors, lawyers and foreigners alike—drop by to browse through his wondrous collection. Solidaridad is an escape from the mainstream fare offered on the shelves of other, bigger bookstores.
Solidaridad is located at 531 Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila.
This story was originally published in Southern Living, June 2014.
Writer: DENISE DANIELLE ALCANTARA
PHOTOGRAPHY JILSON SECKLER TIU