The novel opens with the steamship Tabo heading up the Pasig river on its way to La Laguna one December morning. Take note of the possible parallelism between the ship and the government ruling in the Philippines during Rizal’s time: full of hot air, tyrannical, pretentious.
We meet Doña Victorina, the only lady in the European group on the upper deck (guess who have to stay below deck). She is depicted as a foul-mouthed, extravagant, heavily made-up, disdainful, and insufferable Indio who tries to pass herself off as a European through her wigs and clothes. She is accompanied by her niece, the beautiful and rich Paulita Gomez. Doña Victorina is the wife of Don Tiburcio de Espadaña, who left her after many years of marriage and who was now hiding (maybe) in Laguna.
Among the other characters introduced are: Don Custodio, an official counsellor; Ben Zayb, an exceedingly intelligent (in his own mind) writer whose pseudonym is an anagram of the surname Ybañez; Father Irene, the canon; and the jeweller Simoun who sports long, white hair and a sparse black beard and who wears a pair of huge blue-tinted sunglasses (in the 1800s? Hmmm.). Anyway, Simoun’s great influence over His Excellency, the Capitan-General was known in Manila. Thus, people held him in high regard.
Discussing the issue of the lake and the slowness of ship travel were Ben Zayb, Padre Camorra, and Padre Salvi, a Franciscan. Simoun cuts in and offers a rather radical solution: dig a new river channel and close the Pasig even if it means destroying villages and committing people to forced and unpaid labor.
What follows is a debate between Simoun and Don Custodio on whether the indios were going to revolt or not. Padre Sibyla, a Dominican, was concerned that the people might rise up as before, but Simoun dismissed the possibility with a what are you friars for if the people can rise in revolt?
After Simoun left the fuming group, Don Custodio offers his own solution: Get... [continues]
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