A Scarred, Resilient Nation: 10 Best Philippines Books

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The history of the Philippines is marked by the scars of colonialism, turbulent politics, and periods of violence. Following centuries under Spanish rule, followed by a protracted and brutal fight for independence, the Philippines were ceded to the United States by Spain as part of the 1898 Treaty of Paris. This led to the Philippine-American War, with the Philippines eventually becoming a colony of the United States. The Philippines finally gained independence following a brutal Japanese occupation during World War II. As a result, the influence of both Spain and the U.S. are evident throughout Philippine culture. Despite years of colonization, the Philippines have enjoyed a strategic alliance with the U.S. and the United States is home to a large community of Filipino immigrants.

The Philippines are perhaps best known to many Americans at present because of the election of President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte’s well-publicized and incredibly violent crackdown on the nation’s drug problem has raised humanitarian alarms throughout the world – particularly his support for extrajudicial killings that have left thousands dead. Despite Duterte’s often combative rhetoric toward the U.S., the Philippines remain a key U.S. ally in the region and the U.S. continues to lends support fight against ISIS-linked militants in the country.

Given the Philippines’ position as a longtime U.S. ally and the prevalence of Filipino immigrants and Filipino-Americans in American society, it’s important to understand not only the history of the Philippines, but also the complex influences that have shaped Filipino culture. The books and novels below, many written by Filipino and Filipino-American authors, will hopefully provide a better understanding of the country and its people.

  • The cover of the book Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)

    Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)

    Jose Rizal is one of the most important and revered figures in the history of the Philippines. As a chief proponent of the Philippine independence during the Spanish Colonial period, his writings – specifically his two novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo – are viewed as pivotal inspiration for the Philippine Independence movement. Rizal was eventually executed by the Spanish Colonial government for rebellion and treason in large part due to his writings. Noli Me Tangere is a love story set against the political backdrop of torture and repression. It is a milestone in Filipino literature.

  • The cover of the book In Our Image

    In Our Image

    America's Empire in the Philippines

    In Our Image earned Stanley Karnow the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for History. The book chronicles the American occupation of the islands following the Philippine-American War in 1902. In Our Image traces the impact of American culture and colonization of the Philippines on Philippine society and is an important narrative in understanding the current relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines.

  • The cover of the book When the Elephants Dance

    When the Elephants Dance

    Set during the waning days of World War II, Filipino-American writer Tess Uriza Holthe weaves a story steeped in Filipino history and myth against the intense and brutal fighting between Japanese and American forces for control of the Philippine Islands. A family and their neighbors huddle in a cellar just outside of Manila. They begin to tell stories of magic, myth, and legend to pass the time and hearten one another as they struggle to survive.

  • The cover of the book Dogeaters


    Perhaps no other book chronicles the clash of American pop culture and Filipino tradition as well as Manila-born author Jessica Hagedorn. Her novel Dogeaters follows a disparate cast of characters caught in a series of ever-escalating events centered around a beauty pageant, a film festival, and an assassination. It is a compelling and intense portrait of Philippine society.

  • The cover of the book America Is Not the Heart

    America Is Not the Heart

    A Novel

    Filipino immigrants have long been a vibrant part of American society, representing one of the largest foreign-born groups in the United States. Accordingly, the immigrant experience is an important part of Filipino-American history. America Is Not the Heart chronicles the complexities, pain, and promise that define the immigrant experience through three generations of women attempting to reconcile the life they now lead with the one they left behind.

  • The cover of the book Ilustrado


    Deftly weaving real-life events around a winding fictional narrative, Filipino author Miguel Syjuco paints a rich family saga across 150 years of Philippine history. The story centers on a young man named Miguel who returns to the Philippines in search of answers following the death of his mentor, a famous Filipino writer living in exile in New York. It is a fascinating blend of noir, family saga, history, and humor.

  • The cover of the book In the Country

    In the Country


    In this collection of short stories, Manila-born author Mia Alvar takes a deep look at the experiences of exiled Filipinos making new lives for themselves throughout the U.S. and the Middle East. Alvar, who grew up in Bahrain and New York City, has particular insight into cultural conflicts and the feelings of displacement and loss that permeate the foundations of these communities.

  • The cover of the book The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic

    The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic

    Nick Joaquin is often cited as one of the greatest and most influential Filipino writers and The Woman Who Had Two Navels is a classic of Philippine literature and Joaquin’s seminal work. In it, Joaquin uses the story of a woman suffering hallucinations to examine the impact of colonialism on Filipino society.

  • The cover of the book Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath

    Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath

    The Bataan Death March was among the more infamous events of World War II and as a result countless books and memoirs have dissected nearly every aspect. None, however, quite offers the authoritative and wide-angle view offered in Tears in Darkness. Some ten years in the making, the book draws on hundreds of interviews with American, Japanese, and Filipino soldiers to chronicle the prelude, the march itself, and its aftermath.

  • The cover of the book Ghost Soldiers

    Ghost Soldiers

    The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission

    If you’re looking for further insight into the Bataan Death March and its aftermath, Ghost Soldiers presents one of the most engaging accounts available. Historian and journalist Hampton Sides presents the harrowing story of the hand-picked U.S. troops sent behind enemy lines in the Philippines to rescue the last survivors of the March.