Review by: Zsófia Anna Tóth

May 2003

Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t!
By Celia Ruiz Tomlinson
ISBN: 1589391373

It was a very positive, encouraging, and reinforcing experience for me to get acquainted with this outstanding story at an important and difficult phase of my life. I am close to finishing my studies at the university and will have to decide what I want to do with my life. Should I start working, if so what kind of job would be the best? Or should I still go on with studying? This book filled me with hope and courage that it is worth struggling for my dream.

The autobiography of Ceclia Ruiz Tomlinson is the story of an extraordinary woman. It is not an everyday life story, but something unusual. Yet when I started to read this book, another autobiography came to my mind which handled a story of a quite similar issues, though with several differences: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Both of these women wrote about their difficulties with getting along in a white world full of obstacles, and finally becoming successful, acknowledged, and respected as a result of the fights in their pioneering lives.

Tomlinson’s work consists of 19 chapters recounting the most significant and determining events of her life. She writes about sadness, happiness, failures, successes, her struggles, fights and feelings, with well-selected words and in a very elaborate style. Her way of writing is simple, but with a refined simplicity instead of triviality. She writes in a rationalistic, true to life, sometimes naturalistic manner. She has a very good sense of how to present life and its workings aptly, credibly, and with delicacy. It is amazing, for example, how she describes human contacts, relationships--how a person is introduced to us. From a few sentences we know what that person is like, what s/he likes and what not and what we can expect from her/him. The problems and nuisances of minimal or basic human existence are also depicted accurately, such as the lack of a proper toilet or bathroom. She writes in details about her experiences but her work is never exhaustive or elongated. It deserves attention likewise that she underlines thoughts, or chain of thoughts, with what she considers to be important helping us to find the ideas of essential importance in her story.

The autobiography starts with a little introductory chapter about what she has achieved and why what she did is important. Then, Celia Ruiz Tomlinson begins her story from her childhood. We learn about her happy “overture” of life in San Miguel, Bulacan in the Philippines. Later on, because of an unfortunate event, her family’s life takes a sad turn.They have to move to Manila and to start a new life in poverty with full of hardships. She relates how she studies, what studying meant for her, her father and her mother. She tells her story of how to get out of the slums and poverty, and how to become successful and rich via studying and fighting hard for advancement. Her toil of becoming a skilled, experienced, acknowledged and respected civil engineer is presented to us in her autobiographical book. She was one of the first female civil engineers who got a degree, and probably, the only one who managed to gain sphere and success in practice, as well. She succeeded in breaking down many unwritten rules and invisible walls which discriminated against women from various points of view. She successfully emigrated to the United States; and after overcoming many obstacles, she became a registered engineer in the U.S., as well. She worked hard, and finally, she even managed to found her own engineering company. Along with her professional work, she got married. She lead and still leads a full life with professional successes, after much hard work a good marriage, and a son.

At the end of her book, Celia Tomlinson also gives some useful advice about how to become successful. She talks about the interesting features of success, and she warns all of us to differentiate between dreams and fantasies. She reveals that selfishness is needed for success, but only provided nobody gets hurt. She also claims that you have to be different, to stand out of the crowd. You have to make positive steps, to be prepared, to be determined; you have to let go of the past, you must never underestimate people and you “just have to go for it” to achieve success (240-247). A “teaching” which can be followed and which probably results in a positive outcome.

It is also amazing how she manages to describe the workings of society, rules of social behaviour, how she handles moral questions, investigates problematic issues concerning every aspects of life. She describes and presents such subject matters which are of high importance in literary theory, such as the traffic in women, the eye of power, the gaze and the like. She discusses inferiority, superiority, male domination, racism, and all kinds of discrimination with much skill.

What is really captivating in this book or this story is the author herself, her personality, her character, her strength, her courage and all her abilities to become successful. Whenever the slightest doubt comes into our mind about whether it is worth struggling or fighting for something; this example, Celia Ruiz Tomlinson’s example shows us that, yes, it is worth, and we must not give up. With her words “behind each option lurks new problems but a solution always exists, as sure as there is a ramp to every bridge” (238).

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