By now, the facts had already been oft-repeated. In his latest mystery thriller novel titled “Inferno,” American author Dan Brown described Manila, the Philippines’ capital city, as the “gates of hell.”
Over the weekend, a world renowned writer weighed in on the issue. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, writer of “The Alchemist,” said via Twitter that Brown made the description unintentionally. “Dear Filipinos, your souls lead to the gates of heaven,” Coelho said.
“When the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila–the most densely populated city on earth–Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale,” Brown wrote in Chapter 39 of his book. Read this Wikipedia article for more.
The controversial author also characterized Manila as suffering from “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children…” A day after it was first reported, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Francis Tolentino sent Brown a letter to express his personal disenchantment.
Brown hasn’t said anything yet about Tolentino’s complaint (will he even read it?), but the Professional Heckler (TPH) already has an idea how he will react. TPH’s blog post has gone viral, indicating that many Filipinos share his sentiment. That is, we should stop being overly sensitive on what is clearly a work of fiction.
As avid followers of Brown’s works knows, the author is capable of weaving together fact and fiction in a way that will make it hard for most readers to know which is which. In other words, if you are not particularly knowledgeable about the things he is talking about, you will probably take his word as the truth.
Only last March, movie giant Warner Bros. released a teaser photo from the film “Pacific Rim” which shows Manila as being contaminated by the excrement of Kaiju. The shot, however, bears a strong similarity to the dump sites scattered around the country (see the photo here).
Brown has made a career out of making controversial books. Two of his books, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, were particularly critical of the Roman Catholic Church.
If you are a commercial author, you want your works to get as much publicity as possible (whether good or bad) to increase your sales. Negative publicity is better than none at all. Who knows, in describing Manila in an overly negative way, Brown is aiming to have bigger sales in the Philippines.
With our new sets of elected officials due to take office by next month, may this serve as a wakeup call on what more needs to be done to address the situation in the Philippines. Instead of fussing about Dan Brown, here’s a tip for MMDA Chair Tolentino.
Why don’t you focus on cleaning the sidewalks? Vendors are now occupying sidewalks without any regard for pedestrians. They have to be regulated in a humane way. I understand that they have to earn a living, and that we should practice “live and let live,” but lest it be forgotten – sidewalks are for pedestrians more than anyone else.
PS: Brown provoked a similar backlash in 2005 because of his unflattering descriptions of Seville, Spain on his book “Digital Fortress.” Read this article from The Independent. “We understand that Digital Fortress – which was not very successful when it came out – is not a socio-political essay or a tourist guide. It’s a novel, a work of fiction, which bears no relation whatever to the truth,” a spokesperson for the Seville local government said. Maybe our officials can take a lesson or two from that?