5 Stars *****
Jose Rizal was not so much a novelist as a revolutionary who fought with a pen. This book is not so much a novel as an incendiary device flung deliberately and accurately into a lake of heated gasoline.
I could waste my time and yours expounding its plot or criticising it stylistically. But to do so would miss entirely the point of its having been written. For, in the way of revolutionary works, it articulates and encapsulates the emotional and physical agonies of an oppressed people; the powerless abused by the power holders, whose control emanated from gripping the beliefs of an uneducated people by the jugular and squeezing in order to suck out their life energy and perpetuate their subjugation.
This is book that invokes reader anger, yet is written without the need for authorial anger. For in the simple fictionalisation of what he observed around him, Rizal illuminates the hypocrisy of hijacking religious belief as a tool of oppression. When we see the physical, emotional and spiritual abuse he describes so simply, he does not have to conscript us into his revolutionary army. For we grab our pen, his pen, any pen, to mark our X onto the dotted line, enlisting willingly and committing to his cause for life.
This book does not distinguish itself as a novel but rather as a revolutionary tract. And as such, it is devastatingly effective. Rizal is more than a hundred years dead, yet still he compels me to take up arms and follow him. Noli Me Tanjere is already compulsory reading for all school students in the Philippines. It is also vital reading for anyone who wants to understand, not just why the Filipino revolution occurred, but why any revolutions occurs anywhere.
Classes of the powerful that exploit and abuse and subjugate, be warned: the poor may well always be with us but they are no longer voiceless. Rizal and those that trod his path are their mouthpiece, their trumpet, their megaphone. From the grave he still accuses you in the courtroom of history. But in this courtroom is a jury you cannot bribe, for we know what you have done for generation after generation and are still doing today.
We have read Noli Me Tanjere and we are coming for you.