Text and images by Yasunari Watanabe
On the evening of 19 January, the College community came together to celebrate the launch of Writing Instructor Laurel Fantauzzo’s non-fiction book, The First Impulse: Notes on Love, Film, and Death in the Philippines in an event held at the Writer’s Centre.
The book, printed by Anvil Publishing, is the culmination of Ms Fantauzzo’s seven-year-long investigation into the murder of two film critics, Alexis Tioseco and his girlfriend Nika Bohinc. Tioseco, who was Filipino-Canadian, and Bohinc, who was Slovenian, were slain in their Philippine residence in 2009.
Professor Robin Hemley, Director of the Writing Programme at Yale-NUS, opened the night by congratulating Ms Fantauzzo on her transition from “writer to author”. Ms Fantauzzo then read two excerpts from her book, which was followed by a question and answer session, facilitated by Kaushik Swaminathan (Class of 2018).
The First Impulse traces the story of the young couple, from their first meeting to the development of a love which transcended cultures. Ms Fantauzzo depicts the events leading to the murder, and the ensuing hunt for a suspect, from various records and interviews with Tioseco and Bohinc’s family and friends.
At the book launch, Ms Fantauzzo shared that she initially felt she had no right to write about the couple, as their paths had never crossed. However, she found herself encountering mentions of Tioseco and Bohinc’s case wherever she went. “I felt like the story kept coming to me,” she said. “Murder eliminated the context behind their lives—I wanted to bring back the context through storytelling.”
Part of that motivation comes from Ms Fantauzzo’s relationship to the Philippines. As a Filipino-American, she relates especially to Tioseco, who shares her experience of living in and out of the Philippines. However, she feels that Tioseco identifies more strongly with the country than she does. “He’s someone I wish I could have been in a conversation with,” she said.
Ms Fantauzzo gathered information about the case by talking to the families of the murdered couple. Tioseco’s brother in Canada was particularly helpful, and embraced Ms Fantauzzo’s decision to write the book. She also visited Bohinc’s family in Slovenia on a Stanley Graduate Award for International Research from the University of Iowa in 2012. As she travelled collecting information, the focus of her book shifted from gathering clues about the suspect, to narrating the deep relationship between Tioseco and Bohinc.
The book launch included a spread of bread, cheese and McDonald’s chicken nuggets. The choice, said Ms Fantauzzo, was deliberate. Bohinc was fond of brown bread, while Tioseco’s family had ordered McDonald’s chicken nuggets when they celebrated a major break in the case. A suspect was arrested in February 2016, two months before she began writing the book in April.
After seven years following the couple’s story, Ms Fantauzzo is “less nervous about starting new projects”. At Yale-NUS College, Ms Fantauzzo works in the Writer’s Centre, where she assists students in developing their writing skills. Outside of the College, her work has appeared in the New York Times and Esquire Philippines, among other publications. She is a 2011 Fulbright Scholar and 2014 Hedgebrook Writer-in-Residence.