On Miguel Syjuco’s Illustrado

The Great Filipino Novel?

Winner of the MAN Asian Literary Prize, hmm, if this won an award then it would be mind-blowingly great. Well, that’s what I thought picking this book up with a 30% discount at National Bookstore. But similar to the Award-Winning novels assigned to you back in High School, you’ll probably need a Literature Teacher to unlock it’s meaning. It’s like reading The God of Small Things or probably To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s hard to get at first.

Probably, I was expecting the wrong thing. I was expecting to be entertained. You’re directly plunged into the plot, a dead body floating in the Hudson river, identified as the writer Crispin Salvador who’s in the process of finishing his much-awaited comeback novel, said to reveal all the dirty stuff on the who’s who of Philippine Society. And now he’s found dead, with the uncompleted Manuscript gone. And now his protege,  the fictional “Miguel Syjuco” is on a quest to find the mystery behind his Mentor’s death, and probably the whereabouts of his novel.

With an introduction like that, I was expecting a mala-Dan Brown mystery. Turns out it isn’t. It’s much more literary, with descriptions that would make you say, sa Manila nga to (this IS Manila). The taxi drivers, the Boy Bastos Jokes, the text messages. What it is is a reflection of Philippine life: it’s circus politics, the novelty songs (Mr. Sexy-Sexy dance probably pertains to Otso-Otso which is popular during the early 2000s?),  showbiz, mga shusaling sumisinghot ng E sa mga bars sa may bandang Fort Bonifacio…

It’s probably not the aim of the author to entertain, and award-winning novels are not exactly entertainment material either.  I could only guess that what he aims for is to reflect the sad reality of the Philippine Soceity, as quoted the NY Times article written about the novel. As for being the Great Filipino Novel, hmm, it does have the Maladies of Philippine Society reflected in it, comparable to those novels labeled similarly, like Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Fili. As for the impact, I’m not really sure. I mean, the Filipinos during the Spanish era got the message of Noli. If an Expat read it, will it make him come back to the Philippines to help? (By the way, he touches on that subject too, if indeed a Novel can motivate Society into Action, and how Filipinos authors agonize on the thought)

As a Filipino reader, It’s sad that I was actually bored: the content had this feeling of what else is new? Probably as a Filipino living in Manila, you’ll get used to these things. Not that I’m saying you can’t do anything about it.

I had fun though thinking what in the novel was true or not. 😉


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