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Literature / My Brother, My Executioner

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My Brother, My Executioner, completed in 1972, is chronologically the third of Filipino author F. Sionil José's five-volume Rosales Saga, a series of novels named after and focusing on the town of Rosales, in Pangasinan province, where he grew up.

This novel primarily revolves around two brothers: Luis Asperri, the son of the Basque-descended landowner Don Vicente Asperri (The Ghost of Tree), and his half-brother Victor ("Vic" for short), who joins a band of peasant rebels. The novel is set on the cusp of The '50s, when agrarian unrest in the wake of the destruction wrought by World War II is reaching its breaking point, and peasants all over the countryside are beginning to organise, most notably into the Hukbalahap rebel army, setting itself up against the landed oligarchy—which includes Luis' father.


Tropes Appearing in My Brother, My Executioner:

  • Affably Evil: Eduardo Dantes.
  • Bolivian Army Ending
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: Trining, not because she dresses like the stereotype, but because she actually is one (justified, as it's the Philippines, a Spanish-Catholic colony for 300+ years). Much is made about how she has an issue with profanity thanks to her prim and proper convent schooling; her chiding Luis about it in the first chapter is her Establishing Character Moment. The trope is considerably played with, as later chapters do show reasonably explicit sex scenes (or the beginnings of them) between her and Luis.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Don Eduardo Dantes, utility owner, newspaper publisher, and shipping magnate all rolled into one.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ester Dantes, Don Eduardo's daughter, and Luis' sometime Love Interest, by overdosing on sleeping pills.
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  • Da Editor: Downplayed; Luis becomes this, minus the gruff and authoritarian personality, to Our Time, a progressive/left-leaning magazine, which—ironically—he runs under the supervision of his oligarch boss, Don Eduardo Dantes. Dantes himself also counts (being a national publisher in his own right).
  • Everybody Smokes: Something of an Enforced Trope in Dantes' office meetings. Whenever he calls together his staff and editors he passes around black cigarettes to everyone and personally lights them—even for nonsmokers. Then again, this was The '50s.
  • Fat Bastard: Don Vicente frequently is mentioned in the context of his huge, bedridden, Basque-white fatness. It's something of a visual metaphor for him being a landlord siphoning off the resources and labour of the land.
  • Foreshadowing: During one of their arguments Ester mentions that Luis' antics and selfcentredness might well drive her to suicide. She eventually makes good on that statement.
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  • Fiction 500: Within the country, the Danteses in particular. One chapter details how Don Eduardo throws an enormously lavish party complete with fancy food, opera singers, jazz bands and a guest list that includes European nobility, all flown in from far-off countries. Even the Asperris with their own huge landholdings and properties both in Pangasinan and Manila pale in comparison. It's something that could have come out of Crazy Rich Asians, except that the celebrants are much likelier to have Spanish blood added into the mix.
  • Fictional Document: One of Luis' poems, titled "Calvaria", is presented at the start of the novel. It also "reproduces" several letters he writes to his various loved ones.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: Ester leaves two suicide notes, one for her parents and a pretty short one for Luis.
    "Dear Luis, Did you know I once won the 100-metre dash? Please forgive me. Ester."
  • Heroic Bastard
  • Historical Domain Character: In passing. Don Vicente was a poker buddy of the Real Life Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon, whom he resembles in several ways: Iberian descent, womanising ways, a tendency to swear (in Spanish, and it's implied), a mercurial and hammy disposition, and a lust for the good life (which needless to say included a lot of drinking, smoking, good (and likely unhealthy) food, gambling, and women, among other things). He even mentions that Quezon nearly named a street after him in the city that still bears the president's name today.
  • Historical Fiction
  • Intrepid Reporter: Though not just a line reporter but editor of his own magazine, Luis generally fulfils this function, especially with his writing social justice pieces that often reveal a bias in favour of the downtrodden and oppressed, like the Huks which his brother Vic leads, and against the rich and powerful, such as his father and the government that's out to get the Huks.
  • It's Always Sunny at Funerals: Don Vicente's funeral, which takes place on a hot May morning.
  • Kissing Cousins: Luis eventually gets involved with, and marries, his cousin Trining.
  • Latin Lover: Luis, the Basque/Ilocano mestizo, is a pretty mild version of this, but he's still pretty affectionate towards Trining, and makes a few green (i.e. dirty) jokes towards her, though more so after they're married. His father Don Vicente, even more Basque, is even more so, having had affairs with various women in his youth and still going to whorehouses in his later years—not to mention the two main chicks in his life: his Spaniard wife, and the Ilocana Nena, with whom he sires Luis.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Unlike to the point of being nearly total contrasts, particularly in class leaning. Luis—son of an old-school, feudalistic landowner—starts writing for and then editing a left-leaning magazine, and obviously sympathises more with the tenant and peasant class, unlike his father, who (as expected of a landlord) cites the necessity of force and state power in keeping order—even and especially against peasant unrest.
  • Lit Fic
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Don Vicente's Spaniard wife, who spent her final days shut up inside a tower room atop his provincial house.
  • Meaningful Name: The columnist Etang Papel (Spanish/Filipino for "paper"). It could be a nickname though.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Eduardo Dantes, whose family hails from the Visayan regions of Iloilo and Negros, is a clear Expy of the Real Life Don Eugenio López Sr., who built a commercial empire that included power generation (Meralco), media (The Manila Chronicle & ABS-CBN), real estate and retail, and a local airline, among others.
  • The Ophelia: Nena, Luis and Victor's mother, ends up becoming this, calling out her sons' names everywhere and to every young man she sees. She eventually resurfaces years later in Mass (working in Father Jess' convent in the Manila slums).
  • Philosophical Novel
  • Praetorian Guard: In something of a cross between this and Private Military Contractors, Don Vicente keeps a corps of "civilian guards" surrounding his estates and in particular his house, which he rationalises as being necessary to defend from potential peasant uprisings. It's something Luis can never quite get over. Also Truth in Television—a lot of Filipino oligarchs, landowners, politicians and warlords invested a lot in private armies, ramping up private "defence spending" particularly after World War II, on the onset of the Huk Rebellion (precisely when this novel is set), and also as a way to terrorise electoral opponents.
  • Rebel Leader: Commander Victor of the Huk army. Luis' brother Vic—who shares the name—becomes the new Commander Victor after the original one dies.
  • La Résistance: The Huks (short for Hukbong Magpalaya ng Bayan, or "People's Liberation Army"), who are fighting for the rural masses' rights, denied as they've been for centuries by landed oligarchs like the Asperris.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Luis quits his schooling at the conservative University of Santo Tomas after the friars in the administration censor out his editorials in the university paper and demand he write something less inimical to their interests. Luis, of course, doesn't budge, and when threatened with expulsion, he shuts up his friar inquisitors by beating them to the punch, having already made up his mind to quit.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs
  • Shout-Out: To T. S. Eliot—particularly to a poem he wrote, "The Waste Land", on which Luis' own "Changeless Land" appears to be unconsciously based, even if he's never read the former.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute / Expy Coexistence: Luis is this to Antonio Samson. Both are young men with Ilocano origins who grew up with intimate experience of poverty. Both left their poor circumstances, studied and eventually got jobs that involve a lot of writing. Their respective novels pick up their lives during the postwar Third Republic, when both quit their respective universities after they're snubbed by the faculty (though Luis was a student, while Tony was a professor). Both got involved (to different degrees) with the rich daughters of their respective employers. And both even had sex with their cousins, begetting a son in the process.
  • Title Drop: During the brothers' last meeting before the Huks move in on the Asperri house, taking advantage of the gap in defences while the current detachment is called away and Luis is awaiting its replacement.
  • Uptown Girl: Ester Dantes, daughter of one of the country's biggest oligarchs. Trining also counts for being Don Vicente's niece.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: From the novel's opening, it's clear Don Vicente's sick and slowly dying. He's generally an invalid in his house for the remaining time he spends in the novel. The brewing agrarian unrest seeping into his haciendas doesn't help either, and a central conflict in the story is Luis' recognition of his impending succession to the Hacienda Asperri and all the responsibilities—including and especially the unpleasant ones—that it entails.