Remoto, Danton. “Riverrun”, Penguin Random House Sea, 2020.
A Rite of Passage
Danton Remoto’s “Riverrun” is a novel about the rite of passage in the life of a young gay man who grew up in a colorful and chaotic dictatorship. Written as a memoir, it moves from childhood to young adulthood, from barrio to London. The chapters are written like talk stories and vignettes and are interlaced with recipes, a feature article, poems and vivid songs.
We meet Danilo, a young Filipino man who was raised near an American army base. Danilo is different, and everyone in his village knows it. People were alienated by him and he didn’t understand why but as he matured, his difference defines him even more.
He longs for his best friend Luis every night when he goes to bed. His classmates called him a faggot even before he could fully understand that he was attracted to the same sex. His father observed that something in the way he walked was strange and told him to always walk strongly… the way boys should walk.
Ferdinand Marcos, at the same time, was taking over the nation’s government. Violence soon came to their remote village. The novel is an honest portrayal of coming to terms with one’s sexuality. Most of the novel comes through Danilo’s attraction and arousal to various men, and his inability to understand what it means. No matter whether Danilo is in the rural Philippines, or in bustling London, there is the sense that Danilo never understands himself.
Most of the vignettes remain told in first person, but some are structured as news articles, as lists, or as recipes. The fragmented structure gives writer Remoto the chance to use a heightened sense of observation, giving detail in each sentence.
The first part of the novel is nostalgic with the rendering of the elementary school, the boys and girls, the innocent boy crush and coming-of-age. We move on to the changes in Danilo’s personality as he grew up.
This book is filled with a lot of Filipino cultures: recipes, folklore, beliefs, and religion. Remoto criticizes the government in subtle and witty ways. We see the coming together of the coming-of-age story and the criticism of the government.