Miguel Syjuco's debut novel, Ilustrado, opens with Crispin Salvador, lion of Philippine letters, dead in the Hudson River. His young student, Miguel, sets out to investigate the author's fatal departure from his encroaching obscurity and the suspicious disappearance of an unfinished manuscript—a work that had been planned to not just return the once-great author to fame, but to expose the corruption behind rich families who have ruled the Philippines for generations.
To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, charting Salvador's trajectory via his poetry, stories, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The literary fragments become patterns become stories become epic: a family saga of four generations tracing 150 years of a country's history forged under the Spanish, Americans, and Filipinos themselves. In the end, the story twists, belonging to young Miguel as much as his lost mentor, and readers are treated to an unhindered view of a tropical Third World society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress. In this astonishingly inventive and bold novel, Syjuco explores fatherhood, regret, revolution, and the mysteries of lives lived and abandoned.
"Bristling with comic verve, metafictional playfulness, and an undertone of expatriate nostalgia that belies Syjuco's age, Ilustrado is an impressive vibrant mix of Borgesian literary labyrinth and acerbic émigré comedy."
—The Sunday Times
"Beyond Ilustrado's furious skewering of Filipino elites is writing that bristles with surprising imagery...Ilustrado pushed readers into considering matters of authenticity, identity and belonging. Despite its various comic turns, it is ultimately a tragedy – a raw reminder of the fact that we can never, really, find our way back home."
—The Financial Times
“This is a big, bold, cunning, impassioned, plangent and very funny book.”
—Scotland on Sunday
“Fusing a cynical sense of humour with an original take on the universal struggle for salvation, [Syjuco] vindicates the idea that individuals and nations alike can, whatever their faults become once again illustrious.”
“...a dazzling and virtuosic adventure in reading...a remarkably impressive and utterly persuasive novel. Its author, unlike Crispin, may succeed with the Nobel committee.”
—Joseph O’Connor, The Guardian
“Wildly entertaining ... absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humor ... Syjuco is only in 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. [T]he 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
“The novel fizzes with his expertise in language... In Ilustrado, Syjuco uses the potency of words to illuminate the world that both inspires and disappoints him. His novel, written from the heart, will excite and delight you.”
—Waterstones Books Quarterly
“Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour.”
—The Man Asian Literary Jury Prize Citation judges
“Ilustrado exceeds all expectations...a staggering, indelible debut.”
—Quill & Quire (starred)
“Syjuco’s exceptional novel exceeds its heightened expectations, serving notice that a brilliant new talent has arrived, somehow fully formed.”
"Ilustrado now suddenly reminds... of the best of Roberto Bolano; and many readers will soon be able to marvel, as I did, at the richness and depth of human experience it reveals."
—Pankaj Mishra, Guardian
"In this dazzling debut novel, Syjuco portrays the history, politics, and arts of his native Philippines in the semiautobiographical story of two Filipino authors—both members of the ilustrado, or intelligentsia—living in New York. Once the literary lion of his home country, Crispin Salvador is teaching and working on his breakthrough exposé novel, The Bridges Ablaze, when his body washes up in the Hudson River. Wanting to know whether his mentor committed suicide or was murdered, his student and friend (who, like the author, is named Syjuco) sets out on a quest that takes him back to the Philippines for both the truth and the missing manuscript. In this literary collage—of Salvador’s work (fiction, memoir, and poetry), interviews, the biography of him in progress by his acolyte Syjuco, e-mails, blogs, old school jokes, and a bizarre hostage situation that captures the Filipino imagination and is threaded through the novel—the lives of the two writers become intertwined. As an unpublished manuscript, Ilustrado won both the Palanca Grand Prize, the Philippines’ highest literary award, and the Man Asian Literary Award in 2008. 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)
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.
—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH, The Library Journal (starred review)
An ambitious debut novel, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, introduces an author of limitless promise. First novels rarely show such reach and depth.
—Kirkus (starred review)
Miguel Syjuco's dizzyingly energetic, inventive Illustrado views his native Phillipines with a merciless, yet loving eye, its many voices a chorus illuminating the many facets of this chaotic, complicated country. An ambitious and admirable debut.
—Janice Y.K. Lee, Author of The Piano Teacher
Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Prize before it was even published, this dizzying and ambitious novel marks an auspicious start to Syjuco's career. The apparent suicide of famous, down-on-his-luck Filipino author Crispin Salvador sends narrator Miguel Syjuco home to the Philippines to come to terms with the death of his literary mentor, research a biography he plans to write about him, and find the author's lost manuscript. With flair and grace, Syjuco makes this premise bear much weight: the multigenerational saga of Salvador's life, a history of the postwar Philippines, questions of literary ambitions and achievement, and the narrator's own coming-of-age story. The expansive scope is tightly structured as a series of fragments: excerpts of Salvador's works, found documents, Miguel's narration of his return to the Philippines, blogs about contemporary terrorist incidents in Manila, and even a series of jokes that tell the story of a Filipino immigrant to America. Though murky at times, this imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.
"From the ruckus of rumors, blogs, ambitions, overweaning grandparents, indifferent History, and personal crimes, Miguel Syjuco has innovatively re-imagined that most wonderfully old-fashioned consolation: literature. Ilustrado is a great novel.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
Ilustrado is a fantastic literary mystery that draws from the politics and poetics of Manila. It's written in a smart pastiche of fictional newspaper clippings, interviews and novel excerpts, and in the captivating voice of Miguel, a young writer who, far from Manila in his new Manhattan home, wants to piece together this puzzle of his hero's death. Ilustrado is global in all aspects of the story, and frank and unpretentious in every right-on detail. With originality and insight, Syjuco writes of romance and ambition between grad students and lit stars who connive to form a literary island of their own—one that threatens to distract and estrange Miguel from a deeper responsibility to his literary father and their shared past.
—Lee Henderson, Author of The Man Game
“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