Friday, March 3, 2017

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

I have finished my second book for the SEA Reading Challenge! Ilustrado is written by Miguel Syjuco, a Pinoy writer. It's got tons of good reviews from prestigious places, and I decided to read it because it sounded interesting - a writer commits suicide and his magnum opus disappears. His friend goes back to the Philippines to find out about him and what happened to the manuscript.

Sounds like an interesting mystery, right?

Well, it was extremely hard work.

The story is told through: blog posts and comments, excerpts from the dead writer's work, excerpts from a biography of the dead writer, narration from the protagonist (first and third person) and probably a few more that I've forgotten. It's a tricky form of narration and unfortunately, it doesn't quite work for me. Apart from the fact that the story was hard to find, everything sounded the same.

There was some good stuff in there - I particularly like the observations about writers living overseas and writing in a language non-native to their country yet receiving acclaim as a representative voice. The frustration (and envy) of the local writers was understandable and I wish this was explored in more detail in the book.

The seedy world of the rich and powerful was also intriguing, though it reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians. I suppose some things don't change.

I didn't quite get the connection between the [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] political unrest/riots at the end of the story and the story itself. It seems like there is a connection, but I can't see the point.

If I had read this in IB, I supposed I would have enjoyed the book a little more. The author has clearly put a lot of work into this: the protagonist is named after him, and the start of the book reads like non-fiction, which I think is to blur the lines between fiction and reality. But, I'm in the stage where a book has to be first and foremost entertaining, and any literary message a plus (not impossible: see Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and tons of other classics).

Finally, I wonder who this is aimed for. For Filipinos? For the literary elite of the country? Or is it for the literary elite in the West?

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