Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

Going to Poland in May, looking for Filipinos to talk to

April 18, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling 1 Comment →

Photo from Simply Cracow

I’ll be in Cracow, Warsaw and Gdansk in May to write additional essays for my travel book. Are you a Filipino living in Poland? I have questions for my never-ending world domination research. Let’s meet.

Since I like to read novels set in the places I’m visiting, these are my current assignments: an Alan Furst WWII spy novel, and a 19th century Polish novel. Plus some Andrzej Wajda and Kieslowski movies, and The Saragossa Manuscript, and I’m all set.

Have you been to Poland? Any recommendations?

Update: Meeting up with greeneggsnham, who is doing Central Europe. (“Sana masarap ang hopia sa Poland.” Haha)

P.S. Ngayon lang nila na-gets.

Quarterly Reading Report: Gay England, luminous seasons, baroque and twisted Japan

April 08, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places 25 Comments →

I just had my annual conference with my very patient accountant Lani, who can explain the soul-deadening minutiae of taxation without throwing ledgers at me. This tells me that the first quarter of the year is over and it is time for the accounting I do enjoy: the books I have read so far this year.

My personal quota is 54 books a year, or a book a week. You do not have to observe this rule, unless of course you want to. I can do it because I work in publishing so I have to know what’s out there, and also I don’t keep regular office hours so in theory I can read as much as I want to.

Even then I managed to read only eight books in three months. I have no excuse, I’ll just have to read faster in the next nine months. I read Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair—masterful, if we could scrape together several million pounds, we would buy the film rights.

Then All That Man Is, a collection of stories by David Szalay that was passed off as a novel. Yes, they have a common theme—Being a man is tough (and if you think that’s difficult, try being a woman)—but I don’t buy the packaging as a novel. Still, it is an extremely compelling read, the kind for which you have to drop everything until you’ve finished it.

Ali Smith is on my automatic-buy list, and her current project is the Seasonal Quartet, which she probably intends to complete in one year. She can, too, because for all the wordplay in her books you cannot see the effort, it just rolls along. Winter, the second book, is as wonderful as the first, Autumn. It’s joyful, cozy, ferociously intelligent and you should read it.

I finally finished David Mitchell’s number9dream, which I have been reading in bits since September. I’ve had the book for years, but saved it for when I finally visited Japan. Then I visited Japan and promptly left it in the hotel (and since it was Japan, the book was returned to me).

number9dream is endlessly clever, inventive, and intense—it’s like being in Tokyo, and I could not recommend it more. Oh and I think I get David Mitchell’s fascination with Japan (He’s only set three novels in it). Read his conversation with another Japanophile, David Peace, whose latest book is Patient X: The Case Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa is the first Japanese author I ever read, and I need to get my mitts on a copy of Patient X so I asked Juan to check out the bookstores in Hong Kong. It’s not there yet. I must get Patient X. The fact that my Tower of Unread Books grows higher by the day and haunts my dreams like Barad-Dur will not stop me.

Travel and reading are always linked in my mind. When I visit another country, I have to read a book by a local writer (or a novel set in that country). When I went to Budapest I discovered Magda Szabo and Antal Szerb—I love them so much, I wanted to change my spelling to Szafra. Paris is Patrick Modiano (and Eric Rohmer movies). In three trips to Japan I’ve amassed a dozen books which I have just started going through.

First I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. Yeah, he’s really British, but his folks are Japanese and the novel is set in Japan. And when he acknowledged a Tom Waits song in his Nobel Prize speech, I thought, “I am going to read every word you write, even if I didn’t like The Buried Giant.” Holy crap, An Artist of the Floating World is a great book. I think of it as a rehearsal for The Remains of the Day, which is perfect. Both are about fundamentally decent men who do not rise above the narrow confines of their lives. Both are very quiet and calm until the author breaks your heart with a sentence.

Then there was Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, most of them set in Japan, by Angela Carter (who was Ishiguro’s writing teacher). The style is baroque and just bleeding emotional torment, and…maybe another time, I have to be in the mood for this.

Fumiko Enchi’s Masks is a short and deeply twisted novel about the relationship between a formidable woman and the widow of her son. They are so stiflingly close that other people suspect a lesbian relationship. If only it were that simple. The mother-in-law manipulates the younger woman’s relationships with the two men who are in love with her, and when you figure out her end game you have to retrieve your jaw from under the table in the corner where it has taken refuge.

So eight books out of thirteen, a B- for me, but I’ll make it up.

What have you read this year?

Ursula K. Le Guin, 88. Her words will always be with us.

January 24, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

You will see many obituaries today describing Ursula K. Le Guin as a science-fiction and fantasy author. That is an inadequate description. Ursula K. Le Guin was a literary master.

Read this story and understand the bargains we make with ourselves to ensure our comfort and security. Make your friends read it. Spread it all over the social media. Then let us all walk away from Omelas.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
by Ursula Le Guin

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance.

Read The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

Sign up for our Writing Boot Camp at the BenCab Museum in Baguio, March 17-18

January 21, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Books, Workshops 3 Comments →

Email for details.

Our recent books are now available online.

Each book costs Php350. Free shipping nationwide if you buy both books. Offer good till 28 February 2018. Order now through

And now you can buy them on Lazada!
Buy Geeks vs Jocks here, and The Stories So Far here.

Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair is his warmest, funniest novel, and a masterpiece.

January 19, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

If you can’t wait till it appears in local bookstores, it’s available at online bookstores.

My friend and I have this game in which we cast the roles in a film adaptation.

“Armie Hammer as David Sparsholt.”
“Too American. Henry Cavill.”
“Armie can learn a British accent.”
“Henry is already British.”
And so on.

When you wish for a normal life and realize it doesn’t exist

January 05, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 3 Comments →


I’ve just reread Reine Melvin’s short story collection, A Normal Life, and was floored all over again. The writing is exquisite, the stories intense: she fillets her characters with a very fine blade. Most of the stories happen in the Philippines in the late 80s, and the revolutions and coups that were occurring at the time are not nearly as emotional as what her fictional people go through.

A Normal Life is now available at the Ateneo Press bookstore and at Loyola Bookshop. Call (02) 441 0854 to order copies. The book will also be available at mall bookstores, but why wait.