When I was writing Under the Sugar Sun, I imagined annotating it with all sorts of fake documents: telegrams, ledgers, even Javier’s high school report card from Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos! Yep. Apparently, I thought that needed to happen.
I was looking through these documents the other day, bemoaning how much time I wasted making them, and then realized: I have a website. Junk is what the web is for, right? So, here you go: Sugar Sun extras! Enjoy.
I hope you enjoy the little tour into my obsessive brain. Thanks for reading!
When I started my research for Under the Sugar Sun, I spent a lot of time in the microfiche room at Ateneo de Manila looking through the Manila Times. At first, I did not know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I suppose—and I found it in a real article entitled, “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name Is E.L. Evans and He Is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” The sister’s letter had been mis-delivered, and the recipient sent it on to the newspaper as a last-ditch effort to find the missing brother. And thus the Ben Potter and Balangiga story line was born. (And I know you don’t like him yet. You are not supposed to. But just wait. Sugar Moon is coming, and I think Ben will change your mind.)
Back in 2011, I rewrote the original article for Georgina and Ben. Yes, I was writing the book that long.
Now, you cannot totally blame Georgie for being worried. These were the real headlines from the Boston Daily Globe about what happened to his unit:
Disaster in Samar. American Troops Surprised at Balangiga. Forty Officers and Men Killed by Insurgents. Company C 9th Attacked While at Breakfast.
Death List. Names of Those Lost at Balangiga, Samar. Five of the Number Went from Boston to Philippines. Thirty-Five Killed and Died of Wounds. Eight Missing.
Nine Boston Men. Seven of Them Were Enlisted Men, and It Is Feared They were All Among the Lost at Balangiga.
Wounded at Balangiga: Boston Loses One More.
Enlisted men’s families were not sent a telegram when their loved ones died. Only officers’ next of kin were offered that peace of mind. Georgie would have combed these articles and found all sorts of discrepancies, as you can read above. This is based on the truth. When I compared the newspaper lists against the Company C roster, there were lots and lots of errors. Even the early Army reports had errors—no surprise, since they were the ones who gave names to the reporters. It was enough to drive a confused family crazy.
And it did not help to read letters like the one below. This is a real letter by a private at Balangiga who, before he died, wrote to his family in Boston about the worsening conditions of his unit. His family let the newspaper print the letter in full, and I can just imagine what Georgina and her mother thought. I recreated the article so that I could edit it down to its most salient points, but it is taken from a real article on this date and in this newspaper.
This letter really defines Georgina’s obsession with finding and, ultimately, returning her brother to Boston. She didn’t know she was a romance heroine, after all. She thought her life more Gothic-style mystery, I suppose. But she will figure out the truth—after a calesa ride or two!
Warning: everything in this post constitutes spoilers so please only read if you have finished under the Sugar Sun.
Okay, you have been warned.
If you’re still here, you know that Javier took control over Georgina’s search for Ben, heading off on his own to Catbalogan. This alpha male behavior infuriated Georgina. She then strong-armed Allegra and Lourdes to hand over the telegram messages that Javier sent to Lope Cuayzon, the merchant who is holding Ben. Those would have looked a lot like this (based on real receipts from the period):
Knowing Javier’s travel plans, Georgie followed him to Catbalogan. Javier found Ben, but he was a total wreck. The veteran was clearly suffering from what at the time would have been called “soldier’s heart,” or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We may understand this injury better now, but Georgina, like many at the time, would have considered it a type of homesickness. This is why she came to find him in the Philippines, and why she could not leave him there. As she explained to Javier:
“You would put the needs of Allegra and your mother above your own: you would travel to the edge of the earth to find them, live among strangers, humiliate yourself on a daily basis because you did not fit in no matter how much you tried—you would do all that for family, and you would not stop until you succeeded. You wouldn’t rest until they were safe.”
But Georgie did not realize how much Javier depended on her, too. His own debts plus Lope’s extortion pushed him to bankruptcy. (Does this sound like how John Thornton loses his factory in North and South? Yes, there was some inspiration there. Both heroes were noble men who are undone by a world beyond their control—John Thornton with the rapid changes of industrial labor conditions, and Javier Altarejos with the restrictive American trade laws…and the interference of an ambitious opium merchant.)
In the end, Hacienda Altarejos was put up for auction:
But Georgina did not know any of this. She and her brother were staying at the Hotel Oriente (yes, this Hotel Oriente) while she tried to arrange passage back to Boston. Since the finer hotels in Manila published lists of their guests (privacy, what?), I recreated a (true to form) front page of the business daily, the precursor of the Manila Bulletin:
In case you cannot see the guests clearly enough, look at the third column on this close up:
In the end, Ben refused to leave the Philippines for reasons that will become clear in Sugar Moon (upcoming). He abandoned a pregnant Georgina at the Hotel Oriente—after stealing most of her money—which makes her finally realize that she had been protecting the wrong “family” after all. Though she is incredibly stubborn—oh boy!—she becomes stubborn for the right man now: Javier. That is a story worth telling, and the newspapers do! (These are based on real Manila gossip columns, by the way.)
And from the (long since defunct) Sunday Sun:
Meanwhile, the hacienda was saved by Padre Andrés Gabiana. He kept the land in the family by selling one of Lázaro Altarejos’s assets (Andrés’s mother’s house in Cebu) to pay off the debts on the other (the hacienda). Importantly, this means he no longer has to live at Javier’s indulgence as the curate of San Honorato chapel. He became his own boss! And if the idea of a priest-hacendero sounds problematic to you, the Church will agree. We will see his own drama unfold in Sugar Communion (anticipated 2018), with the help of a pretty American doctor. Stay tuned!