by Miguel Syjuco
Philippines. 336 pages. 2008.
Garnering international prizes and acclaim before its publication, Ilustrado has been called “brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed . . . It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor” (2008 Man Asian Literary Prize panel of judges).
It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River—taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Gone, too, is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families. Miguel, his student and only remaining friend, sets out for Manila to investigate.
To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, piecing together Salvador’s story through his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga of four generations, tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves. Finally, we are surprised to learn that this story belongs to young Miguel as much as to his lost mentor, and we are treated to an unhindered view of a society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress.
Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent.
About the author
Miguel Syjuco was born in the Philippines to a Chinese-Filipino father and a Spanish-Filipino mother, into a family whose wealth was anchored in a soft-drink bottling company.
His parents moved abroad during the Marcos era, and Mr. Syjuco spent much of his childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia. He returned to the Philippines for high school and college and, as he says, “got onto the right path when I flunked out of economics in university.”
He had entry-level jobs at The New Yorker, Esquire and The Paris Review, and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University. He is finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Adelaide, in Australia.
Ilustrado, which won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, is his first novel. – Bio clipped from “An Expatriate Filipino Writes of a Parallel Life” by Joyce Hor-Chung Lau, New York Times, May 8, 2010
As of today’s discussion, I was halfway through and wasn’t sure that I was going to bother finishing. Thereafter, I was certain. LOL, I loved the chat, but the (SPOILER ALERT) “is our protagonist the student of the man floating in the river or the very man himself” question took the wind out of my sails. I simply do not find the main characters compelling enough to muddle through an already complex story.
I had liked the book but was not totally convinced – I thought it was going for a “protagonist discovers live is wonderful and calm in tropical climates and gives up initial goal to enjoy life”. After the discussion I read as quickly as I could and, in the end, I liked it way more. The ending really did it for me!
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