Kristel's Reviews > Ilustrado

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
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Jul 26, 11

bookshelves: read-2011, postmodern-modernist, filipino-fiction, man-asia, palanca, filipiniana
Read from April 30 to May 15, 2011

Ilustrado is a novel full of and about fakes. The fragments that make up the book are themselves knockoffs of different genres--murder mystery, satire, interviews from The Paris Review, everything but the kitchen sink. Miguel Syjuco's brassy debut novel turns on its head the first accusation thrown in the face of every expat writing a novel set in the Philippines: "Just how authentic are you?"

Reveling in the flimsy divide between the true and made-up, Syjuco names his protagonist--a listless, wannabe writer in self-imposed exile--after himself. Aldrin of FullyBooked.me points out that other postmodernists like Auster and Safran Foer have created protagonists that they have named after themselves, but this device takes on a more political dimension here. Miguel Syjuco's surname, after all, is a potent one; his own father is a incumbent Iloilo congressman. It practically invites speculation and chismis, since the novel's Miguel also comes from a family of politicians. Could (and should) the reader conflate Miguel's ambivalence about the burgis class he is a part of with the writer's own views? The book brazenly invites these types of questions and more.

Syjuco crams in a distressing number of conceits here, everything from the complicity of the moneyed elite in the sorry state of Philippines, the inherent vacuousness of "intellectual" conversations during book launches, the increasingly grotesque bread and circuses orchestrated for the consumption of the masses. Ilustrado mocks postmodernism even as it wallows in it, going through the techniques like a checklist: bricolage, metafiction, black humor, irony, intertextuality, pastiche. One is tempted to make jokes about having more tricks than a hooker.*

But while accusations of bloat is a fair one, this novel is most certainly not a gimmick. Some parts were handled clumsily (like Avellaneda's blog commenters and the entire length of Miguel's misguided infatuation with a girl he met in a bookstore) but there are layers within these techniques, becoming clues that lead to a final, mind-bending revelation.

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Tintin Love this part: Ilustrado mocks postmodernism even as it wallows in it, going through the techniques like a checklist: bricolage, metafiction, black humor, irony, intertextuality, pastiche. One is tempted to make jokes about having more tricks than a hooker.*

Oh how I wish I also knew what to call these techniques of his instead of using the blanket term postmodernism.


Kristel Thanks! I have to admit, those terms are only half-remembered from college classes. XD


Aldrin Thanks for the intertextual shout-out, Kristel. Honored to be mentioned in such a review. I understand we've been given here a mostly harmless pseudo-romantic portmanteau. Haha!


message 4: by Kristel (last edited Aug 08, 2011 08:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kristel I understand we've been given here a mostly harmless pseudo-romantic portmanteau. Haha!"

Oh yeah, I noticed a while back but I haven't been able to react yet. After all, how can we compare against the linguistic perfection that is PoKwAng? :D


Aldrin Kristel wrote: "Oh yeah, I noticed a while back but I haven't been able to react yet. After all, how can we compare against the linguistic perfection that is, PoKwAng? :D"

Exactly. Absolutely no contest.


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