By Miguel Syjuco
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374174781, 320pp.)
Publication Date: April 27, 2010
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.
Miguel Syjuco received the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and the Philippines’ highest literary honor, the Palanca Award, for the unpublished manuscript of Ilustrado. Born and raised in Manila, he currently lives in Montreal.
Author Miguel Syjuco speaks to Lynn Neary about the recent elections in the Philippines. Syjuco, a native of that country, was born into a political family. He writes about the politics of the Philippines in his new novel Ilustrado. More at NPR.org
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Praise for Ilustrado
“Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize while still in manuscript form, Ilustrado is a hip and secure first novel about the urgency of art and regret. Confident and quirky, with passages that recall early Phillip Roth and a structure not unlike the best M. Night Shyamalan films, the book actively seeks to provoke its audience with bathroom humor and sexist stabs at superficial melodrama. Such scenes are bookended by passages of profundity that somehow manage to always say something about life as well as literature.” —Roberto Ontiveros, The Dallas Morning News
“Ambitious . . . In a daring literary performance, Syjuco weaves the invented with the factual . . . Ilustrado is being presented as a tracing of 150 years of Philippine history, but it’s considerably more than that . . . Spiced with surprises and leavened with uproariously funny moments, it is punctuated with serious philosophical musings.” —Raymond Bonner, The New York Times Book Review
“A dazzling and virtuosic adventure in reading . . . The narrative is organised with immense confidence and skill . . . The author’s post-modernist bag of tricks also contains a whip-crack narrative skill that’s as reminiscent of Dickens as it is of Roberto Bolaño . . . There’s a capaciousness that makes the book richly attractive to wander into . . . [This] novel . . . fizzes with the effervescence a large book can have when its author is in total control of the material. This isn’t a story; it’s the unfolding of an entire world, a mirror-land that seems familiar but is always ineffably strange . . . Syjuco is a writer already touched by greatness . . . This is a remarkably impressive and utterly persuasive novel. Its author . . . may one day succeed with the Nobel committee.”—Joseph O’Connor, The Guardian
“An exuberant, complex, and fascinating ride through 150 years of Philippine history . . . Syjuco’s writing is playful, smart, and confident . . . An inventive and exciting debut.” —Grace Talusan, Rumpus
“An extraordinary debut, at once flashy and substantial, brightly charming and quietly resistant to its own wattage . . . Syjuco’s gifts for pastiche, his protean narrative energy, are in particular evidence in these pitch-perfect fictions of the fictions of his fictional author . . . An exuberant, funny novel that neither takes its grand ambitions too seriously, nor pretends to be measuring itself by any less a scale of intent. How Syjuco . . . has done this is foremost a testament to his prodigious gifts . . . With his dazzling first foray, Syjuco suggest how his new Asia, his new identity, must ‘look’ on the page and between the covers. That look is unexpected and fresh, quite unlike anything that has been seen before.” —Charles Foran, The Globe and Mail
“Wildly entertaining . . . Engaging . . . Absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humor . . . Syjuco is only on his mid-30s, and he already possesses the wand of the enchanter.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“Ilustrado will provoke audible oohs and ahhs from readers . . . The writing is gorgeous. Plus, there's an O. Henry twist in the epilogue. This is a great book. Read it.” —Luis Clemens, Senior Editor, Tell Me More
“Syjuco’s exceptional novel exceeds its heightened expectations, serving notice that a brilliant new talent has arrived, somehow fully formed.” —Jared Bland, 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.” —Michele Leber, Booklist (starred review)
“This imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.” —Publishers Weekly (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.” —Library Journal (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.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Miguel Syjuco’s dizzyingly energetic and inventive novel views his native Philippines with a merciless yet loving eye, its many voices a chorus illuminating the various facets of this chaotic, complicated country. An ambitious and admirable debut.” —Janice Y. K. Lee, author of The Piano Teacher
“Vulnerable and mischievous, sophisticated and naïve, Ilustrado explores the paradoxes that come with the search for identity and throws readers into the fragile space between self-pursuit and self-destruction. A novel about country and self, youth and experience, it is elegiac, thoughtful, and original.” —Colin McAdam, author of Fall and Some Great Thing
“From the ruckus of rumors, blogs, ambitions, overweening grandparents, indifferent history, and personal crimes, Miguel Syjuco has innovatively reimagined that most wonderfully old-fashioned consolation: literature. Ilustrado is a great novel.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
“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.” —2008 Man Asian Literary Prize Panel of Judges