“All that we did in this world was to salvage scraps of freedom.”
During a regular shift at the call center, Alvin Estrada discovers a way to embezzle money from the American telecom giant for which he mans the phones. Soon a couple of friends join in, and the operation proceeds smoothly up until they quit, vowing to take the secret to their graves. A month later, a phone call at 4 in the morning tells Alvin that the police are on their way. (Goodreads)
“The city is not a place. It is a social arrangement… A city ends when there are no longer people to define it.”
I’ll be completely honest and tell you right now that most of my love for this novel comes from its accuracy in depicting call center/BPO life. My first real job was a year in a contact center as a customer service & sales associate, after which I had a decade of comfort and success off the phones but still within the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. I provided service to the Americas, ANZ and the UK, never really facing my fellow Filipinos (until Haliya Publishing came into being).
Another thing you should know: forget the crime/thriller plot! This gripping and lyrical novel from Palanca award-winning author Glenn Diaz is more of a meditation on Philippine history and anthropology, and our place in this phenomenon called globalization.
“…this incongruous combination of lyrical violence is default in Manila, where beauty is scarce, and which flourishes side by side with the hideous.”
It is also an exploration of multiracial and LGBT relationships in modern Manila.
“Romantic love was never meant to quench, to appease, to complete. Its essence is its constant exertion.”
The chapters are more like short stories of the people connected to the heist with the final chapters/epilogue supposedly tying everything together. At this point I must admit that there was a chapter (and a half?) from the book that I didn’t really care for. There were a lot of interesting topics discussed but for me some parts felt sort of uneventful and with lack of character development.
“Here, then, happiness is obviously a form of strength, a subversion even, a modus of survival, even if at times it appears superficial and misplaced.”
I learned that the stories were first published as shorts so maybe that’s why it feels sort of disjointed and forced in some areas. And yet, oh yes this novel is still very close to my heart! It made me relive the endless nights and glorious mornings, the curses and enough racism to last me a lifetime, but mainly the many beautiful connections made not only across the (operations) floor but beyond oceans, continents and timezones. 🌸