Elpidio & Alicia

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I was randomly trawling the MIBF floor (taking my Pokemon for a walk, if you must know) last Sunday, avoiding the more crowded aisles as I already did the bulk of my shopping (ha!) when this lovely book, “Elpidio & Alicia: The Love Letters,” caught my eye at the National Historical Commission booth.

Now I’m trying to be more conscientious about the number of books I add to my shelf (I am, I promise), and it’s rare these days for me to come across a book for the first time and instantly want to buy it, but the more I thumbed through this particular book, the more I knew I wanted it for my collection.

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The book, produced by the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, is a collection of love letters between Elpidio Quirino and his young wife Alicia, in a lavishly designed hardcover volume. I’m drawn towards books that are epistolary in nature, but I love how this book comes across as Griffin and Sabine meets 20’s Philippines, with loads of photos and ephemera, as well as addressed envelopes and letters you can take out and unfold.

Look:

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Lovely, isn’t it?

I like how this book gives us a peek into Elpidio Quirino as a person (I mean, you know, aside from Tydings-McDuffie, I admit he’s one of the presidents I know very little about) and his relationship with his wife.

It was amusing to read about their shotgun marriage:

“One night, the story goes, the power went off, and when the lights came on again, the young lady, not yet 16, was in the arms of Elpidio. Propriety dictated an early marriage for Alicia, much to the delight of her suitor.”

With Elpidio working as a lawyer in Intramuros (later on elected to Congress and Senate), the couple maintained a long distance relationship, with Alicia living at the Syquia Mansion in Vigan as an heiress of a wealthy Ilocano-Chinese clan. Their courtship happened after the marriage, through their frequent letter-writing.

Despite their age difference, the two seem well-matched, and the letters are quite affectionate, alternating between banter (e.g. Elpidio teasing Alicia about getting plump, Alicia warning Elpidio that their son will forget about him if he doesn’t come home soon), pining (“I am always dreaming of you”), and sundry (“Do not be repetitious about the two shirts and one pair of socks. They are torn and worn from my use.”).

The only pity is that there are more letters from Elpidio (probably preserved because they were sent to her home); Alicia sounds like a smart young woman ahead of her time. It looks like she took to heart Elpidio’s constant reminder that he was not a rich man, and became a trader in Inabel cloth despite her family’s wealth:

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I also appreciated the bits of trivia in the book, which give us insight into life in the Philippines in the 20’s: how mail was delivered, Intramuros as the center of activity in Manila, the Manila Carnival, and peacetime years for the Commonwealth.

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And I am sorry to say that the love story ends tragically. I never knew it before reading the book, but it was heartbreaking to find out that Alicia, along with three of their five children, were killed by Japanese snipers during the war.

I truly enjoyed this artifact of a book — it was definitely worth the impulse buy.

***

Elpidio & Alicia: The Love Letters, hardcover with dust jacket and cover packet, 5/5 stars

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