This essay recovers a once celebrated but now forgotten Filipino novel in English, Juan Cabreros Laya’s His Native Soil (1941), which marked the emergence of realism during the Philippine Commonwealth’s slow, decade-long transition to independence from the United States. Whereas the novel was originally praised as a landmark text in Philippine literature in English, His Native Soil was later dismissed by postwar critics as an imitative, formally flawed, and stylistically inferior work. Taking up Roberto Schwarz’s challenge to advance a reading practice that takes into account the difference between literature and social structure in the colonial periphery, I argue that rather than viewing His Native Soil’s improbabilities of plot and tonal dissonances as artistic flaws, they are more meaningfully read as the author’s attempt to adapt the realist protocols of the bildungsroman to capture the double-edged nature of independence: the adoption of a trade policy that would economically bind together the Philippines and the United States and that would render political freedom impossible for Filipinos unless relations of colonial dependency were to be continued after independence.

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