Nick Joaquin to me was sin and stories. The first due to an early memory of my father arriving home with a copy of Manila: Sin City which he cautiously placed on a high shelf, beyond my reach; the second due to Pop Stories for Groovy Kids, one set in green, the other in orange, brought back from Erehwon, then the only "serious" bookstore in our vicinity. (This was Manila, in the 1970s, during the Marcos dictatorship.) Childhood was his stories for kids; my early teens, the guilty pleasure of retrieving his book of essays from the forbidden shelf, there to read about gambling and prostitution, the heat of August and the Ruby Towers quake. The forbidden Sin City turned out to be rather tame but tantalizing nonetheless: it opened up history. Not the history of textbooks, but history written in a hurry to meet magazine deadlines.
The pleasure of the forbidden would return when I made his novel Caves and Shadows the first "serious" novel I pestered my father to buy for me, my successful lobbying made more delicious by his failing to notice that the cover featured a crab on a woman's breast, remarkable daring in book design in then-prudish Catholic Philippines.. The book remains my favorite novel by a Filipino, made all the more precious because it long remained out of print.
Bored to tears by textbooks and the clumsy prose of historians, his A Question of Heroes opened up an appreciation of our greats that might otherwise have been impossible. His The Aquinos of Tarlac , now hard to find, but in its time the best-selling non-fiction work in the Philippines, brought forth, in turn, the discovery of political biography. His stories were now, for me, about sins: of the high and mighty, both generations gone and those in the here and now.
But it was when I found in a shop, and read with feverish delight, his Reportage on Politics, that his influence on me became profound. I had strayed from the writings of Filipinos, been entranced by the journalism-as-history of Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Pole who wrote on the decay and destruction of despots: of courtiers in hiding pining for the rule of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie; of his witnessing the collapse of the autocracy of the Shah of Iran.