It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson Rivertaken 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 Salvadors 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.
For all its wide-ranging splendors, Ilustrado is largely a piercing examination of identities in transition. ... Miguel's single-minded pursuit has marked this debut as more than a current event in publishing. It has fully earned its praises through the psychological mapping of a man who must live through the fallen grandeur of a place that is as prismatic as Salvador's writings, and in the end, that is as dynamic, frightening, and engaging as the course of his own life. (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).
The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
Miguel Syjuco's wildly entertaining Ilustrado was the recipient of the 2008 Man Asia Literary Prize. Such awards, as readers know, all too often go to earnest, high-minded, politically correct and rather dull books. In this case, I picture the judges, weary from perusing massive laser-printed works of heart-sinking merit, suddenly rejoicing at the discovery of a manuscript as engaging as this one, absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humor.
Starred Review. This imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.
Starred Review. Through his vivid use of language, Syjuco has crafted a beautiful work of historical fiction that's part mystery and part sociopolitical commentary. Readers who enjoyed Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao will enjoy this literary gem.
Starred Review. An ambitious debut novel, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, introduces an author of limitless promise ... It dazzles as brightly as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated ... First novels rarely show such reach and depth.
Starred Review. Dazzling . . . It is a virtuoso display of imagination and wisdom, particularly remarkable from a 31-year-old author; a literary landmark for the Philippines and beyond.
2008 Man Asian Literary Prize Panel of Judges
Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, [Ilustrado] covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour.
Dazzling . . . It is a virtuoso display of imagination and wisdom, particularly remarkable from a 31-year-old author; a literary landmark for the Philippines and beyond.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Mrtnz A different edge Written by Miguel Syjuco, Ilustrado is an eye-addicting novel that won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and the Philippines’ highest literary honor, the Palanca Award.
Narrated in an almost schizophrenic point of view, switching between voices,... Read More
The Republic of the Philippines, a tropical archipelago in Southeast Asia, is comprised of more than 7,000 islands. The major island groups include Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Negros, and Cebu. The country is believed to have been first settled by the Aetas (who the Spanish settlers named Negritos). Although the Aetas' short stature, dark skin and curly hair has caused them to be compared to African pygmies, scholars believe they migrated, not from Africa, but from the Asian mainland about 30,000 years ago (possibly across the land bridge that is thought to have existed at the time), and developed their phenotypic traits in situ. Later, around 4000 BCE, successive waves of people from South-East Asia and other Pacific Islands started to settle in the Philippines bringing with them the Malay and Hindu cultures and, later, Islam.
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