Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Miguel Syjuco's impressive debut Ilustrado*** (see definition) is most worthy of the buzz.
The panel of judges proclaimed it "brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed, ...ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor".
It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River. Gone is the controversial lion of Philippine literature as well as 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 friend, embarks on a literary archeological dig - through Crispin's poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga, tracing 150 years of history of The Philippines. To our great surprise, the story bring us full circle to young Miguel.
"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."
Born in 1976 in Makati, Miguel Syjuco lived in many cities of the world since his undergraduate days at Ateneo de Manila University. With a master’s at Columbia University, PhD at the University of Adelaide (Australia), he currently lives in Montreal. He had worked in many jobs, from editor of a dotcom, bartender, apartment painter to powerseller of ladies’ designer handbags on eBay until February 2009 when he focused full time on his writing.
Readalike: Homecoming* by Bernhard Schlink - another epistolary novel about history, identity, deception, and discovery.
*** = starred reviews