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Literature / La Oveja de Nathán

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La Oveja de Nathán, in English "Nathan's Sheep", is a Spanish-language Filipino novel by Hispanophone author Antonio M. Abad. Written in The Roaring '20s, when the Philippines had emerged from 300+ years of Spanish colonial rule but was now under U.S. colonial rule, it was written from 1925–26, published in 1928, and won the Premio Zobel, a Philippine-wide competition for Hispanophone literature, in 1929. In 2013, a bilingual Spanish/English edition was released, translated by Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes.

It is epic in length and scope, and centres largely around the life and adventures of young Mariano Bontulan, serving as a typesetter in the Philippine government printing office, under the direction of his elite boss, Don Benito Claudio de Hernán González, who though a principal negotiator with the new American imperialists and cofounder of an early assimilationist political party under the U.S. regime, holds a deep suspicion for the new colonisers, and imparts his thinking to Bontulan over the course of the latter's employment. Meanwhile, Bontulan, hearing of the news of The Great War, decides to sign up for the American side.

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It is considered, by the few scholars who have read and studied it to date, to be possibly the greatest work of Filipino Hispanophone fiction, and has been compared to no less than War and Peace (hopefully not just because of its massive length and epic scope).


Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Much of the novel's main plot occurs in the last couple decades prior to its writing and publication; The Great War was less than a decade prior at the time, for one.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: One of the specific Catholic sects explored here is the veneration of Nuestra Señora de la Regla (Our Lady of Rule) in Opon town (today Lapu-lapu City), Cebu.
  • Les Collaborateurs
  • Doorstopper: The bilingual edition is 632 pages long, so the original, at roughly half that, is still around 316 pages.
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  • During the War: Mariano Bontulan goes off to fight in The Great War, on the American side. (Initially he shows a lot of admiration for the Germans though.)
  • Eagle Land: Don Benito sees largely a Type 2. Mariano Bontulan, young and largely growing up post-Philippine-American War, is more trusting of the Americans and sees principally a Type 1.
  • Expy:
    • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Don Benito Claudio de Hernán González, Mariano Bontulan's boss, is explicitly based on Real Life old ilustrados (intellectuals) like Pedro Paterno and T. H. Pardo de Tavera, who both survived well into the era of U.S. colonialism, and so had to negotiate with and live under the new American regime.note  Bontulan himself is based in part on the Real Life Tomas Claudio, one of the few Filipino soldiers to fight (though he died, Bontulan didn't) in The Great War.
  • Evil Colonialist: Played with, since Spain—the uncontested Big Bad in most other Filipino historic and literary portrayals, whether helped by U.S. colonialism or heirs to the 1896 Revolution—is here largely painted as the benevolent, nurturing outside power, especially compared with the (then-current) American colonisers.
  • Foil: José Baluyot, Mariano Bontulan's officemate in the government press, and who holds opposing political views.
  • Gay Paree: Both Mariano Bontulan and Don Benito spend significant time in fin-de-siècle Paris, the latter to study, the former to celebrate the Allied victory in the Great War.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting
  • Gratuitous English: Naturally, with the Americans now in charge and disseminating their language in mass public schooling. Specifically, the American teacher and entrepreneur Edwin Moore and his family are a natural source of this.
  • Historical Domain Character: Many, many, named ones, from the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish conquistadores who're Don Benito's indirect ancestors, or friends and in-laws of them; to all the named American imperialists and Filipino elite politicians doing their negotiation dance in the decades leading up to the novel's present.
  • Latin Land: The fact that the original novel was literally written in Spanish is a good hint that the Philippines presents as this, especially since 300+ years of Spanish colonialism itself had just ended barely a generation prior to its writing.
  • Lit Fic
  • Literary Allusion Title: Not directly, but the title refers to the biblical Prophet Nathan, who was not afraid to speak truth to King David.
    • As the Good Book Says...: Specifically, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan tells the parable of a sheep, cared for by his shepherd but coveted by a rich man. In this case, the sheep is likened to the Filipino nation/people, the shepherd to the Spanish colonisers, and the rich man to the American imperialists.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Don Benito, sort of; as an old ilustrado (elite intellectual), he may have grown up in a Philippine setting but studied abroad for much of his youth, generally in Europe, particularly in cities like Paris. Played with since he has considerable Spanish blood as a descendant of actual Spanish conquistadores in the 16th and 17th centuriesnote , and so he was already Western to begin with, at the very least in the genetic sense.
  • Multi-Ethnic Name: This being the Philippines, people can have full names with any combination of Spanish and local languages like Tagalog, Bisaya, and so on. A recurring example is of Spanish given names and indigenous family names (e.g. Mariano Bontulan, José Baluyot, Emilia Sikapat, etc.).
  • The Philosopher: Don Benito dispenses a lot of sage and sometimes prophetic advice to Mariano Bontulan. (He even looks like a stereotypical wise man with his white beard, glasses and old-school gentlemanly looks.)
  • Philosophical Novel
  • The Roaring '20s
  • Slice of Life: Shows much of Mariano Bontulan's everyday life and work at the imperial Government Printing Office, outside of his wartime adventures.
  • Shown Their Work: The novel is densely packed with references to Philippine and world history and then-current events, such as The Great War, and the convoluted politicking between the Filipino elite and American imperialists. Lots of Real Life names and places are thrown around quite liberally.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: It's the Philippines, so.
  • Voluntary Vassal: The stance of elite negotiators like Don Benito, who as founders of the Federalista Party, originally sought annexation as the latest state of the Union, or at least as an explicitly benevolent protectorate.

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