Most helpful positive review
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2010
I''ve waited a long time to get my hands on Ilustrado after learning it won both the Man Asian Prize for Literature and the Philippines' Palanca award in 2008 . When I finally got it, after prying a copy from a local bookseller before its official release date, I could not put it down.
The story revolves around two characters: Crispin Salvador, a giant in Philippine literature, and Miguel, his young student. Syjuco weaves many themes in Ilustrado. The lives of Crispin and Miguel are set in the context of a multi-generational Filipino gothic tale of family, country, politics, corruption, crime, literary intrigue, love and post-colonial identity. Syjuco carries the voice of the Filipino expatriate with deep insight and wit. (Disclosure: I am a Filipina expatriate and, while I was born and raised there, I''ve lived in Canada longer than any other place.) Through Miguel''s youthful ramblings and Crispin''s erudite pronouncements, one gets a sense of their brooding and conflicted thoughts about life, alternating between the country and families they have left, and their temporary present lives. And, as if to remind us that Filipinos are not all angst, he provides glimpses of the humour, shallowness and the smut that are equally a part of this culture.
But that''s not all. In the end, it' is Syjuco''s writing that got me. After finishing the book, I went back and re-read passages just to savor the beauty and strength of his prose. From the descriptions of his fellow Filipinos - "'the splay-toed, open-hearted'", "'slope-shouldered we are, freighted by absence" - t''o the natural and rhythmic dialogue he captures between Miguel and his Manila friends to display their hip but feckless lives, to the profound literary musings of Crispin, Syjuco delivers with style.
Ilustrado is a demanding read for a number of reasons. John Barber of the Globe and Mail describes the book''s structure as a shattered mirror. The shards of glass represented by the various viewpoints in the book - the young Miguel, Crispin, through various excerpts of his writing, news clippings, and interviews, a narrator who pops up here and there, the fragments of text messages and jokes that provide cultural context - leave you with many impressions, not all contemporaneous or related. This might bother some readers looking for linear plot lines but it is truly an elegant and effective way of presenting the intertwined layers of Ilustrado. Syjuco sometimes lets big words invade his writing, rather like an angler being pulled by a big fish, but he quickly finds his way back to clear and flowing prose. As in any book whose context is culture-specific, the references to things Philippine may perplex or elude the reader. If so, I recommend finding a Filipino friend who will explain to you what a dwende is, what the traffic in Manila really feels like, or why Filipinos are particularly skilled in the silly alpha-numeric language of text-messaging.
There are lots of reasons to read this book. If you' are a Filipino expatriate, or an expatriate of any nationality, dive into Syjuco''s world and listen to the echo of your own thoughts about country, identity, why you left and why you live where you are. If exploring other cultures through literature is your thing, learn about Filipino culture beyond the tired clichés assigned to it and look into its modern kaleidoscopic personality. If you enjoy authors whose use of language is infused with the sounds, structures and nuances of their global settings, get to know this superb young multicultural writer. I cannot wait for his second book.