It Begins with a body.On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River—taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Missing, too, is the only manuscript of his final book. Enter Miguel, his student and only remaining friend, who makes it his mission to find out what happened to his friend and mentor, Miguel attempts to sort through the weft of Salvador's life, charting his trajectory through his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs, these literary fragments interlock to become stories, tales, become epic generational sagas linked like so many pieces from some large Jigsaw puzzle. As we follow Miguel’s journey home in search of more information, we come to realise that this book is as much about him, as it is about Salvador.
This story is told via rumour and jokes, via Blogs, text messages, through Miguel, through the works and interviews of Crispin Salvador and through the musings of seemingly omniscient narrator, it builds up layer upon layer resulting in a fascinating and dramatic family saga covering four generations, and 150 years of Philippine history, forged by blood and politics under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves.
Constantly blurring our perception of what’s real, Illustrado becomes part metaphysical detective novel enthralled to Jorge Luis Borges, part satire on Philippine society (or at least the part of it the author has intimate knowledge of).
This is a wonderful fantastical debut novel, whether it’s the parts written as Crispin Salvador, or as Miguel Syjuco, it conjures up magical hallucinatory images interwoven with the day to day reality - until past, present and future are all one tense, all one story.
“And with this fiction of possibilities, entwined with the possibilities of fiction, I've woven in my own unlived life.”
Garnering international prizes and acclaim before its publication, Ilustrado has been called “brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed . . .It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour” (2008 Man Asian Literary Prize panel of judges).
“All life is a dream.
To attain the impossible,
we must attempt the absurd.”