For the past few weeks, I’ve been raving about Miguel Syjuco’s “Ilustrado” to anyone who will listen! Hahaha, I’ve even managed to convince a bunch of people to go out and get copies (Dianne and Mike and Mike’s uncle, haha — I hope you like it as much I did!) because I couldn’t contain my excitement about it. Here’s my full length review (originally published in Manila Bulletin), and I hope it makes more people want to read it!
“When the author’s life of literature and exile reached its unscheduled terminus that anonymous February morning, he was close to completing the controversial book we’d all been waiting for.”
Thus begins Miguel Syjuco’s “Ilustrado,” winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Award and the Palanca Award, recently launched in the Philippine edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (International release is due this week — I think I’ll get myself a trade paperback of the international edition). I was waiting to board a plane to Davao, and I relished the ominous beginning as I settled down at the airport lounge for the first few chapters of this highly anticipated read.
Filipino writer-in-exile Crispin Salvador’s corpse is found floating in the Hudson River, and his student, Miguel Syjuco (yes, the same name as the author), wants answers. Miguel sets out to piece together Salvador’s life with fragments of his mentor’s body of work, personal history, interviews with friends and relatives, and other sources, telling his own life story along the way.
“Ilustrado” is not your typical Filipino novel, eschewing carabaos in the fields and sunlight the color of mangoes in favor of epistolary-style metafiction that uncannily mirrors Philippine culture, history and politics.