May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin

Of eves and virgins and daughters and mothers ... and the men in between.

My two cents

May Day Eve and Other Stories is book of short stories by Filipino author Nick Joaquin, a National Artist of the Philippines for Literature. I got a copy during a trip back to the Philippines. I read this and was quite blown away by each of the stories and because I needed the time recover from "book lag" following an impressive read, I let my review languish.

I decided to reread this and get this review up for #Diversiverse. I love showcasing authors from my country and hope you get a chance to read this and other works by this amazing author.


I felt homesick reading this. Nothing compares to reading a book written by an author coming from your own country, talking about your own realities rooted in cultural references that you'll "get." Obvious really, but I didn't really realize it until I finished this.

This slim volume of just 100 pages contains five short stories. Each story is succinct and pithy, and has a bit of a "wow" to them which makes me appreciate how gifted a writer is Nick Joaquin. They deal with the double-edged sword that is family, love, religion and faith, and tradition. They are all set during the Spanish colonial period which spans 300 years, vestiges of which strongly influence Filipino life today.

One strong theme is the role of the women. While they are not always front and centre in these stories, they show woman in all her multi-faceted glory: meek and submissive, rebellious and decisive, vengeful and exacting, forgiving and loving, and how they are a critical piece in family histories.

Here are my quick takes on the stories:
Three Generations is a tale of three generations of the men in the Monzon family, bringing into sharp focus machismo, the heavy influence of Roman Catholicism, tradition and the rather twisted dynamic of family relations and familial duty. It ends in bittersweet self-realization towards acceptance.

It opens with Celo being informed by his wife that their son Chitong wants to enter the priesthood. In the same breath, the wife also berates Celo for not visiting his authoritarian, difficult and rather promiscuous father. Family drama culminates when the three generations come together in one room, revealing childhood hurts and abuse, deep regrets and... and the strange reality that history often repeats itself.

Doña Jeronima is a love story and folklore-in-the-making. Set in the 17th century, this is the secret love story of the powerful Archbishop of Manila. A man known for his piety, he was once an overzealous man who quelled his worldly ambitions, vowing his life to the church after a life-changing year shipwrecked, stripped of worldliness in total isolation on a Godforsaken Island. He had gained a semblance of legend in Manila, having been saved twice over by God.

His past life makes a reappearance when a strange woman appears in his church ... the woman he loved, who he spurned for the church who now demands recompense. The Archbishop spends the rest of his life treading the line in honoring two vows.
Doña Jeronima won a Don Carlos Palanca Award in 1965.

The Legend of the Dying Wanton is a poignant mother-esque and son story that highlights the power of piety and faith. Currito Lopez, a young Spanish soldier seeks the blessing of a devout elderly churchgoer Doña Ana de Vera as he hies off to join the troops in Cavite. Miraculously, he is found, impossibly so, as the sole survivor of the disastrous shipwreck. He becomes a devotee and credits the miracle of his life to Doña Ana de Vera's intercession of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus. 

May Day Eve is the namesake of this collection and is based on the old wives' tale that one should look into the mirror at midnight on May Day Eve (April 31st) to see the face of the person you are to marry -- but there is a risk, as you may see the devil or a witch instead! This is a heartfelt, heartbreaking piece on youthful desires, of growing old, of love and of regret. This is the shortest of the lot, yet really packs a punch! Curious? I found a copy of this short story here online! 

Guardia de Honor weaves magical realism in this tale of a family heirloom of emerald earrings. Multiple generations and timelines converge as the wearer of the earrings prepares to serve as the Guardia de Honor at the Virgin Mary feast. I found this a fascinating take on how generations can impact on the decisions of the those in the future.

Verdict: I highly recommend this collection of short stories by renowned Filipino author. Each story is a gem with its unique take on family life, love, and faith during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. I hope you pick this one up!

Nick Joaquin
About Nick Joaquin
Nicomedes Márquez Joaquín (May 4, 1917 – April 29, 2004) was a Filipino writer, historian and journalist, best known for his short stories and novels in the English language. He also wrote using the pen name Quijano de Manila. Joaquin was conferred the rank and title of National Artist of the Philippines for Literature. He is considered most important Filipino writer in English, and the third most important overall, after José Rizal and Claro M. Recto.


  1. This sounds EXCELLENT Aloi - you have the best taste. :)

    1. I guess I can't wrong with a National Artist, April :) A little sheepish that it had to take Diversiverse for me to get this review up! I have another book by Joaquin which I probably should read .. it's been on my shelf for almost two years now!

  2. Oh, wow - I love that this book made you feel homesick. No, that's not right - I love that this book was so spot on that you could relate to it so well.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall