Summary and book reviews of Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

Ilustrado

A Novel

By Miguel Syjuco

Ilustrado
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Prologue

The Panther lurks no longer in foreign shadows—he's come home to rest. Crispin Salvador's fitting epitaph, by his request, is merely his name.

—from an unattributed obituary, The Philippine Sun, February 12, 2002

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.

His body, floating in the Hudson, had been hooked by a Chinese fisherman. His arms, battered, open to a virginal dawn: Christlike, one blog back home reported, sarcastically. Ratty-banded briefs and Ermenegildo Zegna trousers were pulled around his ankles. Both shoes lost. A crown of blood embellished the high forehead smashed by crowbar or dock pile or chunk of frozen river.

That afternoon, as if in a dream, I stood in the brittle cold, outside the yellow police tape surrounding the entrance of my dead mentor's West Village apartment. The rumors were already milling: ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews
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.

The Walrus

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.

Library Journal

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Booklist

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.

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.

Reader Reviews
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

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The Philippines

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 ...

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