The novel is set in the town of Sampilong which is under the conjugal dictatorship of Donya Leona and Don Severo Grande. They control the wealth and power in the town and use the institutions of politics, Church and law for their own ends. The townsfolk are composed of farmers and people living in depressed areas. Bandong, a teacher, serves as their leader and adviser. He educates the people and tries to bind them together to fight the wealthy and greedy couple.
The novel has wonderful set-pieces that vividly show the gap between the rich and the poor-the feast in the house of the rich as opposed to the imprisonment of Andres, the slum-dweller; the wake and the setting up of the cooperative; the wicked ways of the people under the control of the Grande family and the corrupt politicians. The novel ends when the townsfolk discover that the Grande family does not own the land they are claiming as theirs. The townsfolk have awakened from their slumber and decide to change the unjust system. They now have a newfound faith in themselves and their capacity to change their lives and the destiny of their country.
About the Author:
Amado Vera Hernandez, commonly known as Amado V. Hernandez was a Filipino writer and labor leader who was known for his criticism of social injustices in the Philippines and was later imprisoned for his involvement in the communist movement. He was the central figure in a landmark legal case that took thirteen years to settle.
His writings gained the attention of Tagalog literati and some of his stories and poems were included in anthologies, such as Clodualdo del Mundo's Parolang Ginto and Alejandro Abadilla's Talaang Bughaw.
In 1922, at the age of nineteen, Hernandez became a member of the literary society Aklatang Bayan which included noted Tagalog writers Lope K. Santos and Jose Corazon de Jesus.
Hernandez joined the resistance movement when the Japanese invaded in the Philippines in 1941. He was an intelligence operative of the guerilla outfit of Marking and Anderson, whose operations covered Bulacan and the Sierra Madre mountains, throughout the Second World War.
After the war, President Sergio Osmena appointed him councilor of Manila during the reconstruction of the war-devastated city. He also became president of the defunct Philippine Newspaper Guild in coordination with its editor in chief, Narjeey Larasa.
But his most significant activities after the war involved organizing labor unions across the country through the labor federation Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO). Influenced by the philosophy of Marx he advocated revolution as a means of change. On May 5, 1947, he led the biggest labor strike to hit Manila at that time. The following year, he became president of the CLO and led another massive labor demonstration on 1 May 1948.
In 1950, the Philippine military started a crackdown against the communist movement, which was had sparked open rebellion in some areas on Luzon island, and the CLO headquarters was raided on 20 January 1951. Hernandez was arrested on 26 January on the suspicion that he was among the leaders of the rebellion.
But the authorities could not find evidence to charge him. For six months, he was transferred from one military camp to another and it took nearly a year before he was indicted on a charge of rebellion with murder, arson and robbery - a complex crime unheard of in Philippine legal history.
It was while he was imprisoned that he wrote his most notable works. He wrote Isang Dipang Langit (A Stretch of Heaven), which later won a Republic Cultural Heritage Award, and Bayang Malaya (Free Nation), which later won a Balagtas Award. Also written in prison was his masterpiece Luha ng Buwaya (Tears of the Crocodile). Portions of his novel Mga Ibong Mandaragit (Birds of Prey) was also written while he was at the New Bilibid Prison. He also edited the prison's newspaper Muntinglupa Courier.
After five years of imprisonment, the Supreme Court allowed Hernandez to post bail on 20 June 1956. He then resumed his journalistic career and wrote a column for the Tagalog tabloid Taliba. He would later be conferred awards in prestigious literary contests, like the Commonwealth Literary Contest (twice), Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (four times) and journalism awards given by the National Press Club of the Philippines (four times).
On 30 May 1964, the Supreme Court acquitted Hernandez in a decision that would be a landmark in Philippine jurisprudence. The case People of the Philippines vs. Amado V. Hernandez is now a standard case study in Philippine law schools.
Hernandez continued to write and teach after his acquittal. He was teaching at the University of the Philippines when he died on 24 March 1970. The University of the Philippines posthumously conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Humanities honoris causa. The Ateneo de Manila University awarded him its first Tanglaw ng Lahi award. He was posthumously honored as National Artist for Literature in 1973. Together with poet José García Villa, Hernández was the first to receive the title in literature.
Danton Remoto has translated five novels, including Banaag at Sikat (Radiance and Sunrise), the monumental novel in Tagalog published by Lope K. Santos in 1906. He has taught Creative Writing and Literature at Rutgers University, University of Nottingham and Ateneo de Manila University. He has also worked as host of a daily TV show and a daily radio show in the Philippines and has been writing a widely-followed column called 'Lodestar' in the Philippine Star in the last 20 years. He has published a well-received novel called Riverrun, as well as a book of stories, three books of poems and six books of essays. He has received awards from the Asian Scholarship Foundation, British Council, and Fulbright Foundation. He was a Fellow at the Cambridge Conference on Contemporary Literature at Downing College, Cambridge University, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference at Middlebury College, Vermont. His body of work is cited in The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Literature.