Welcome to Manila in the turbulent period of the Philippines' late dictator. It is a world in which American pop culture and local Filipino tradition mix flamboyantly, and gossip, storytelling, and extravagant behavior thrive.
A wildly disparate group of characters--from movie stars to waiters, from a young junkie to the richest man in the Philippines--becomes caught up in a spiral of events culminating in a beauty pageant, a film festival, and an assassination. In the center of this maelstrom is Rio, a feisty schoolgirl who will grow up to live in America and look back with longing on the land of her youth.
Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn was born (and raised) in Manila, Philippines in 1949. With her background, a Scots-Irish-French-Filipino mother and a Filipino-Spanish father with one Chinese ancestor, Hagedorn adds a unique perspective to Asian American performance and literature. Her mixed media style often incorporates song, poetry, images, and spoken dialogue.
Moving to San Francisco in 1963, Hagedorn received her education at the American Conservatory Theater training program. To further pursue playwriting and music, she moved to New York in 1978.
Joseph Papp produced her first play Mango Tango in 1978. Hagedorn's other productions include Tenement Lover, Holy Food, and Teenytown.
In 1985, 1986, and 1988, she received Macdowell Colony Fellowships, which helped enable her to write the novel Dogeaters, which illuminates many different aspects of Filipino experience, focusing on the influence of America through radio, television, and movie theaters. She shows the complexities of the love-hate relationship many Filipinos in diaspora feel toward their past. After its publication in 1990, her novel earned a 1990 National Book Award nomination and an American Book Award. In 1998, La Jolla Playhouse produced a stage adaptation.
She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters, and continues to be a poet, storyteller, musician, playwright, and multimedia performance artist.
Remember Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of the Philippines, and his wife Imelda with her mansion closets filled with 3,000 pairs of shoes? This novel, published in 1990, came out of that era. Of course it has to reflect the clash of classes – the ultra-rich and the have-nots. So we have one set of characters who are super-wealthy; tied to the dictator and his cronies, the businessmen, the generals and the high administrative officials who have mansions, luxury cars, lavish parties, servants and beauty pageants. The Mrs. loves beauty pageants just about as much as she loves shoes.
(Newsflash! This just in…they're back! The new president of the Philippines in 2022 is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., born 1957, the only son of Ferdinand and Imelda.)
And then we have the downcast folks. There’s a particular focus on a group of men whose mothers, often prostitutes who died young, and were brought up by a Fagin-like character who taught them how to be pickpockets and thieves. Now that they are older they are bisexual gigolos, drug addicts and some-times DJ’s or waiters in fancy clubs.
All the rich men have mistresses, of course, (or boys) while the poor folk try to grab whatever trickles down their way. Politics and violence interfere – political assassinations touch some of the characters and some run away to join the anti-Marcos guerrillas in the hinterland.
All these folks, rich or poor, are portrayed as fast-living, fast-talking wheeler-dealers. They have nicknames like Baby, Girlie, Boom Boom, Boy Boy. [The new President goes by the name Bongbong.] They speak the national language, Filipino (formerly called Tagalog), which is blended in with pidgin Spanish, English and Portuguese.
We learn a lot about how much the culture is influenced by American culture and by the diaspora of Filipinos to the US and worldwide. Almost every page has some Tagalog expressions and, while you can understand some of them in context, a glossary would be helpful for so many unfamiliar words, di ba? A lot of local color of Manila and the Philippines in the 1980s, fast-paced and a good read.
The author (b. 1957) wrote a half dozen novels and plays, most focused on Filipino culture like this one, but it appears she stopped publishing after 2011. Dogeaters is her most widely-read novel and it won some awards and was also made into a play. Born in Manila, she moved to the US as a teenager and became an American citizen.
Top photo of Marcos, Jr. from upi.com Manila skyline with shantytowns from theguardian.com The author from spendidtable.org
The rating on this one kept slipping the more I read. I started with, OK, this might be interesting; moved to, This is totally nonsensical, no more; and culminated in: What the fuckety fuck, I mean, WTF??? WHAT?
This book in a nutshell: BIG. HOT. MESS. Sizzling MESS!
Also like this:
Rather than write a novel, Hagedorn threw together a series of stories. No, scratch that. These aren't stories. They're vignettes, snatches of lives, bits of memories, crumbs of experience. The problem is that none of it amounts to much, and the chapters certainly don't add up to a book.
There are so many characters (lovers Trini and Romeo, Rio who consistently narrates many of the chapters remembering the Philippines of her childhood, bisexual crackhead Joey, the General and his lewd mistress, the rich political couple who seems to be based on Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, etc.) that we get only glimpses of their lives and can't keep track of the various narratives. There is no actual timeline, no plot. The books seems to take place in the Philippines in the 50s through 80s, but the sense of time is vague at best.
While Hagedorn does paint a striking picture of the bureaucracy and madness of her home country, if this is all you'll ever learn about the Philippines, you're bound to think it's home to a bunch of whores, corrupt politicians, and junkies. And considering that my favorite brother-in-law is from the Philippines, I know that's not true!
I don't understand the purpose of this book? In her attempt to be original and postmodern, Hagedorn loses all sense of what it means to tell a story and tell it in a way that connects with the audience.
"Dogeaters" (1990), the first novel of Jessica Hagedorn, was nominated for the National Book Award. Hagedorn (b. 1949) was born in Manilla and moved to the United States in 1963. She is a poet as well as a novelist; in 1998, she also transformed "Dogeaters" into a play. I became interested in this book because I hadn't read any other novels set in the Philippines.
The novel is set in Manilla from the mid 1950s through early 1960s. It is of the middling length of 250 pages, but with its writing style and many characters the novel makes for slow, difficult reading. The plot develops slowly; the book is almost more a series of short inter-related vignettes than a novel. The voicings change markedly and quickly with two first person narrations together with lengthy sections told in the third person. The writing is highly descriptive and enjambed. The book has long run-on sentences and paragraphs full of at different times names, lists, adjectives -- the types of lengthy series that would not be out of place in a Walt Whitman poem. Each section of the story, and the novel as a whole, features many different characters. It is difficult, and probably intentionally so, to keep the characters straight.
Much of the book is a depiction of Philippine life which Hagedorn develops from its poorest to its most elite, powerful levels. The scenes include poor rural shacks and apartments, stressful low paying jobs, drug dens, and bars which are havens for gay prostitution. The wealthy element of Manilla life, the generals. political leaders, and owners of property also are portrayed with their control of the poor part of the population.
The book emphasizes American and earlier Spanish influence on the Philippines as a result of colonization. The influence is reflected in the more materialistic aspects of American life, including products and brand names, soap operas on television, popular songs and American film. These elements are presented at length and are shown to have a debasing effect on Philippine life as, one would assume, the author finds they have on life in the United States. Earlier Spanish culture is also reflected unfavorably in many ways, including the large influence of the Church. The book also suggests a native Philippine culture, under the centuries of colonization, which probably comes through at its clearest in the many untranslated words of Tagalog that appear frequently at many points in the story.
The early sections of the book largely describe the characters, their relationships, and their interactions. Only at about mid-point does a plot line begin to come clear as the author explores the dictatorial and oppressive character of the Philippine regime. The unhappy political situation becomes increasingly juxtaposed with the lives of the many protagonists, both poor and rich.
The collage-like, surreal aspect of the book is in part effective. The author means to show the unfortunately confused nature of Philippine culture and government with the influence of colonialism and American crassness competing against the efforts of the Philippine people to find their own way and sense of nationhood. The writing style also makes the book slow moving and unfocused.
I had mixed feelings about this novel and its message. I thought at times that the work was more interested in conveying an anti-American message of the sort that has become all-too-common in our culture and literature than it was interested in depicting Philippine life. But this tendency is balanced by an element in the book that shows the Philippine struggle to develop their country in the face of great difficulty. The focus is more on the local people than on the alleged perniciousness of American influence. The book encourages thought on a number of issues, including religion, marriage, the role of women, the nature of beauty and physical appearance, the pervasive and unfavorably depicted homosexual presence in the novel, and the nature of government that get beyond pat stereotypes and fixed answers.
Christopher Lehmann- Haupt's wrote a perceptive review of "Dogeaters" in the March 22, 1990, "New York Times". Lehmann-Haupt notices the blame America character of some of the book, observing that Hagedorn's vision and anti-Americanism may "border on ideological tendentiousness". He finds the book redeemed by its following closely upon the historical record once the story finally gets underway and by its gradually developing character as a Bildungsroman -- the story of the moral growth of the principal character in the novel. Lehmann-Haupt refers to the growth of one of the first person narrators, a young woman named Rio Gonzaga, whose voice opens the novel and who, as did Hagedorn, ultimately emigrates to the United States where Rio enjoys a successful life but never marries and remains a religious skeptic.
"Dogeaters", in sum is a less than fully successful novel. On the whole, I enjoyed the novel as a result of the beauty of some of the writing and as a result of its portrayal of Philippine life.
My very first time to read a novel by Jessica Hagedorn (born 1949), a Philippine-born American novelist, playwright, poet and multimedia performance artist. I purchased my copy of this book in 2010 but postponed reading this several times because of what a friend said that it is similar to Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado (2 stars). That this and Syjuco's are both composed of short stories or vignettes with no cohesion because of the absence of unifying theme. That both are trying hard to be seen as postmodern writings only failing in the end.
I agree and disagree.
I agree because like what I mentioned in my review of Ilustrado,Dogeaters is also composed of short stories culled into a book. The only difference is here, one recognizable story is contained in at least one chapter so it is easy to follow the plot and it is enough for me to remember the character and the event before another story and characters are introduced. However, there are so many of them that it would have been better if I got myself a pen and paper and jotted down the names of the characters before moving on. Also, as more interesting characters came in, I forgot already the previous ones (like Andres and Trinidad) and when they returned towards the end, I had to think hard on which chapter I first encountered them. I was also looking for the denouement that will tie up the loose ends in the last chapters just like what F. Sionil did with his Gagamba: The Spider Man (2 stars) but there was none. Hagedorn of course, this being a postmodern, probably did not want this to be predictable and so she left the characters as they seem to appear like in frozen in still pictures. That's what's life is, anyway. We when part with someone, we don't necessarily have to formally say farewell. Sometimes we don't have a chance. Sometimes it is better to just leave without saying goodbye.
The other similarity between this and Ilustrado (2 stars) is that Syjuco and Hagedorn are both Filipino-Americans and they exploit the Philippines to their benefits (write a novel, gain popularity and undoubtedly make money) by writing a book and release it in the US to be read primarily by the American. I mean if you are a foreigner and if these books are the only ones you read about the Philippines, you would get the idea that our country is full of crooks, prostitutes, corrupt politicians, underground syndicates, showbiz-crazy dimwits and religious fanatics. There are nothing positive depicted in these books about the Philippines and the Filipinos. It is as if, Hagedorn and Syjuco, now both US based are ingrates of the land of birth and they use what little they knew or heard of the country to shock their American friends.
However, Dogeaters is a notch better than Ilustrado because it is better-written as it is easier to understand and her characters are definitely more memorable. Hagedorn has this ability to create pictures in your mind and being a Filipino it is not difficult to do so. I was born in the 60's and Hagedorn left the Philippines a year prior to my birth year (1964) so I still had the chance to see a movie at Odeon and other first-class movie houses along Taft Avenue. I was already a young man when the Marcos couple was ousted from power by the People Power Revolution in 1986.
My first Hagedorn and I think I will rest for sometime before I pick up another book of her. I heard that this book is her best so I am not expecting the others to really blow me away.
With very mixed reviews, I wasn't sure I was going to opt in when this book was chosen for Wall St Journal Bookclub, but I read the Kindle sample and was hooked. Manila in the not too distant past; a cast of thousands (ok, dozens); poverty and privilege; vice, corruption, violence, pop culture, innocence, religion, family and friendships. Dogeaters has it all!
With its huge ensemble cast of characters, each chapter of Dogeaters presents the point of view of a particular character. This was a common criticism amongst the negative reviews, but for me it kept the story dynamic and interesting. My favourite chapters were those focused on Rio (the observant young, wise-beyond-her-years daughter of a well-off, multi-ethnic family) and Joey (basically a handsome, coke-head, hustler DJ). With plenty of nods to real people and events in the Philippines during the 70s and 80s, Dogeaters paints a fascinating, unexpected picture of a complex society.
People condemned colonialism as being the exploitation of one country by another. The dominant power sucked the resources out of the weaker one, paying only a little back in terms of some technology and a semblance of law and order. But I think now we have realized that that economic bloodsucking was only one of the evils of the imperial experience. More subtle, but maybe longer lasting, was the degrading of the self among the dominated. The ruled felt powerless, they felt their whole culture had failed them and offered nothing of a future, while the West (almost always the dominating powers) remained glamorous, powerful, sexy, and almost unreachable. The dominated peoples shucked off their traditions, rejected their pasts, and tried to become Western. If this is only partly true, it is truer of the elites, who could aspire to local power if they mimicked the real rulers. In the post-colonial era some countries adopted Western institutions to benefit themselves, while others took only the outward forms of the West and used them in corrupt ways. If these remarks hold any relevance to post-colonial society, they are even more true of the Philippines, where America held out a vision of "Americanization"---democracy, education, and pop culture---which could not be delivered in reality in a Southeast Asian peasant society that had lived under loose Spanish control for over 350 years before the Yanks arrived.
DOGEATERS is an achingly realistic portrait of Manila society, where nobody wants to be what they are and everyone wants to be somebody else. Identity comes from trashy Hollywood and Manila movies, soap opera is life. The shopping-obssessed elite rejects everything in their own land. The demi-monde leers around every corner. Phoneyness is next to godliness. The riffraff rule. Everyone survives on the edge. Marginal men become mainstream. Snowy Christmas scenes and "Jingle Bells" greet a holiday, but it's all "out there" somewhere; Manila remains hot and humid, home to a Malayo-Polynesian tradition that is walled off and laughed at by the would-be foreigners that dwell in the vast city. Imelda Marcos, a character in the book, collects her shoes and puts up huge "cultural" monuments that commemorate herself. She has no clue about and no sympathy for the problems of her nation. A thinly-disguised Benigno Aquino gets assassinated and everyone betrays everyone else. Everyone turns out to be marginal in the end.
DOGEATERS starts off in a brilliant way. The first two thirds of the book is exciting and insightful. If you have ever read Vargas Llosa or Lobo Antunes, you will not find Hagedorn at all difficult. Changing narrators and jumping back and forth is part of post-modern literature. Hey, what's so new about that ? I am not at all Filipino, though I have visited that country. OK, I didn't understand most of the Tagalog words tossed into the text without explanation, but you get the sense even so. In the last third, however, the author runs out of ideas. She can't keep up the momentum created through her intense, accurate description of certain classes of Filipino society. The story becomes diffuse and kind of limps across the finish line like "American Graffiti". Still, for anyone who fancies a novel that really opens up a culture quite neglected and unknown in the West, DOGEATERS is a must read.
Quite a frenetic and schizophrenic book. I can see that Hagedorn was attempting to create an intricate picture of the mostly seedy underbelly of Manila but it felt a bit crowded. For example, there is a kind of *gasp* moment near the end that I just shrugged at because I couldn't remember why that character was important. I don't know that it benefited from its large cast of characters. I also don't like feeling cheated at the end and I felt a bit of that reading the two conflicting accounts of what occurred.
Thankfully Hagedorn does spend a little more time with Rio and Joey, probably the two more saner characters in the book. Still, I have to think Hagedorn is trying to say something when 90% of the supporting cast consists of druggies, thugs, colonial elitists, corrupt politicians, loveless neglectful family members, and shallow, vapid women. The book reads more like interweaving vignettes than a novel, and while that makes for exciting reading I do wish Hagedorn spent more time developing Joey and Rio.
I think this book would improve with a second reading, if only because this time I'd be more familiar with the characters and be able to remember them better by the book's end. ___________________________
Must amend the above based on something I just read out of Lisa Lowe's Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics which I think is a great way to look at the troublesome format of the book: Dogeaters offers scenes, dialogues, and episodes that are not regulated by plot, character, progress or resolution. Both the gossip [tsismis] it features and the format of the novel itself move in a horizontal, or metonymic, contagion rather than through the vertical, or metaphorical, processes of referentiality and signification. Spontaneous, decentered, and multivocal, gossip is antithetical to developmental narrative. It seizes details and hyperbolizes their importance; it defies the notion of information of property" (115). And later: "The association in Dogeaters of insurrection with gossip may refer implicitly to a history of guerrilla strategies that were not centrally organized and to different modes of political practice that have been obscured by the stage of oppositional party nationalisms" (119).
So my demand for more character development can in one sense be seen as a reaction to my looking for a western developmental plotline in a non-western text. Regardless, I still want to read more about Joey and Rio. :)
My Year-End (2012) and Year-Start (2013, of course) Read
First read: perplexing
Second read: still somehow perplexing
This book is filled with too many perplexing events! Too many perplexing people! Perplexing Hagedornish writing style! I had the difficulty of reading between the lines; of trying to understand what the author was trying to say. But perhaps that was because, as much as I love Historical Fiction, I don't know much about my country's (I'm Filipino, by the way) history - the heyday of The President and his First Lady/Madame/Iron Butterfly whichever this ma-arte woman prefers. Or was I just distracted by the Noche Buena - the dessert in the fridge (yum yum!) - or the noisy "Welcome 2013!" or the early class come-back (January 3!) and the compliance of requirement that followed?
BUT I liked it, nevertheless! I gave it four stars (really liked it)! I liked Jessica Hagedorn's ability of connecting seemingly disjointed events. By the way, when the first sign of this disjointedness commenced with the King of Coconuts, I thought: Really! So this is what I bought my precious 549 pesos with? -rubbish!. But along the way, she drew these people together - this people who are "a disparate group of characters" as what the back part of my paperback says.
I also liked Hagedorn's allusions. The President and his First Lady/Madame/Iron Butterfly for example. They're obviously you-know-who and Senator Avila!
Except - this does not mean,however, that I abhorred it completely - from the snappy ending, I really liked this book! Hagedorn has presented a vivid Philippines. The country which is very perplexing. It's people in perplexity of their identity, of their origin. A country influenced by the West. In this canvas, she has drawn a vividly perplexing Philippines.
It was worth the reread.
Does this review perplex you too?
*My paperback is the one with the weird and again, perplexing, orange-colored cover. In fact, it was the cover that really intrigued me when I first discovered it in Goodreads last September 2011. But since THIS one came out when I typed the ISBN on the search bar, so be it! :D
Dogeaters is a penetrating analysis of the modern history of the Philippines depicting the harsh realities of a politically corrupt system. It reflects the reality of what the current political figures in society are like and how their actions, beliefs, and decisions affect every person in the country on one level or another. The connections between the characters are complex and the political dynamic of the Philippines is inundated with deception, controversy, scandal, and intrigue. All of the characters have a three-dimensional personality that shines through each page.
It is a cautionary tale illustrating the importance of being a knowledgeable and informed citizen of current political and social issues. Instead of being influenced and immersed by popular culture, ordinary people need to be aware of matters of political interest so their voices can be heard in time for positive changes to be made. For example, all that Romeo cares about is being a movie star and he is so engrossed in popular culture that he doesn’t see reality coming until it ran him over in the street.
It is written in non-linear experimental prose, a style that attempts to simulate the fragmented information and incomplete understanding that the characters experience so that the readers will also have to view the work through the same narrow lens. Although it succeeds in placing the reader in the same fragmented reality as the characters, a partial re-read is necessary to grasp the whole picture, and who has time to read books more than once these days?
Often when reading post-colonial works there is a feeling that alternate realities are being described, dream states and counter-histories which have been suppressed or erased by the official history. Hagedorn performs such an archaeological procedure in her ferocious and volcanic work, Dogeaters, a text which systematically dismantles the ruthlessness and heartlessness of the Marcos regime, as well as indicting the American colonial presence which still lingers in the Philippines in the form of Hollywood films, American servicemen, and the long shadow of global capitalism and conspicuous consumption. Her heroes are the forgotten and marginalized members of a society—-the hustlers, the whores, the transvestites, and the guerrilla rebels who dare to resist the lies perpetrated by the First Lady and President and the military-economic power structure that support them.
I can't give a full evaluation of this book as of yet, but I can say that if you're at all interested in learning about gritty side of Filipino politics, history, and identity, then this book is for you. The language is cryptic, yet bold, and maybe even brash. The way that Hagedorn is able to tell the individual stories of people from various levels of society is masterful. I'm reading this slowly, as it is very rich in detail and I don't want to miss anything!
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars. I read it as part of the WSJ book club. I actually liked it, and I think it presents a very good portrait of a developing country: the class strata, the dictator, corruption.
The book is slow to develop, and yes, the chapters jump between characters, often with no warning. But I was never confused and ultimately looked forward to certain characters' chapters, especially Joey and Rio.
Catholicism figures prominently in this novel, which can be expected because the Philippines is a mostly Catholic country. But some of the book's characters are not religious at all. Others pretend to be devout, attend church regularly, but live their lives without any concern for what is morally right. On the other extreme, one character is so devout that it isolates her from the rest of society. I think it's a realistic picture of religious practice, especially in a country that was converted to Catholicism through colonial rule.
This wasn't my favorite book of all time, but it's a worthwhile read.
Do you know the feeling you get when your drugs run out and you're not in love with that German director john you've been sleeping with and your pimp of an uncle is screwing you over again and your whole country is corrupt and your Lana Turnerish mom is breathing down your neck to start acting like a proper young lady already? Well, you will after you read Dogeaters. It's a crazy fast paced dissection of Manila society circa 1950s/60s, and it rocks.
Set in Manila, Philippines, under the dictatorship of the Marcos administration, Jessica Hagedorn’s DOGEATERS explores the lives of the rich, the poor, and the depraved. By using bits and pieces of what’s considered *official* (newspapers, history books) and *unofficial* (gossip, celebrity talk shows) information, Jessica Hagedorn unpacks many heavy topics. How the Philippines is portrayed by its colonizers (Spanish & American) to justify colonization. The toxic aftereffects of colonization. How the media values fast news reports over thorough investigations. The role mainstreamed misinformation play in people’s lives, specifically for the outcasts, the people living in the margins. A large cast of characters, including movie actors, dancers, waiters, generals, and so many more, provide multiple perspectives into this ironic, satirical, and at times horrific, world.
Written in a nonlinear fashion, with alternating narratives, DOGEATERS mimics the structure and unreliability of memory. It does not really focus on character development (aside from Joey’s and Rio’s stories). There is no cohesive plot or resolution. The intention is for the reader to observe and get lost in this disorienting style of writing. Ironically, the characters also have a difficult time observing / being aware of their own situation. Since most of them aspire to be seen themselves, it’s a horrifying awakening when they’re finally able to see the oppressive reality they live in.
I know a lot of my fellow Filipinos have asked me, “Don’t you find the title to be repulsive?” Yes, at first—but I think Jessica Hagedorn chooses this title as an act of resistance. Colonizers originally portrayed us (Filipinos) ‘dogeaters’ to label us as savages, to justify their need to civilize us. To a colonizer, we are the ‘wild dogs.’ So, in their consumption of our culture and our resources, who’s really the dogeater?
It’s important to remember that the characters in this book are Filipinos who reside in Manila. This is not representative of Indigenous culture or provincial life. Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who’s willing to read this book with thoroughness and patience. I personally still don’t fully understand Jessica Hagedorn’s commentary on sex & gender and though I read this slowly, I’m probably going to have to reread this in the future to do so. DO NOT pick up this book: 1- if you don’t understand books you can’t identify with, 2- if you’re reading this and you think it’s only reinforcing negative stereotypes of Filipinos (stop surface reading), and 3- if you do not understand satire.
There are novels you devour and novels that devour you. Hagedorn consumes; her appetite is voracious and her feast is ours. Dogeaters is alive. The narrative is a polyphonic, frenetic movement of place and character. Readers never really get our bearings. The fluidity of the landscape and people slip through our fingers. No one and nothing can be pinned down. Hagedorn hasn't so much captured on the page a country, its people and cultures at a specific moment in history, but she has tapped into the pulse and breath. Readers are gobbled up along with the story, the characters, words and images into the Philippine farrago.
dnf at 75% because i don't understand what's going on. this book didn't feel like a story, but more like fragmented series of flash fics that didn't make an actual sense. i don't even understand what makes these characters related to each other at all. i admit that i only decided to read this because of my literature class but i legit had to drag myself to read every page until it just didn't do it for me. i had to stop.
another book I had to read for class and I don’t understand what I was supposed to get out of it. some of the little vignettes were entertaining, but some of them I just didn’t understand. I liked the short chapters; they helped with the pacing.
Mostly, I liked this book. Jessica Hagedorn writes a sharp satirical sentence, has a wealth of knowledge of "classic" and "campy" American popular culture, and applies both of these skills naughtily/impactfully. I like that Dogeaters tells the story of an identity- and power-fraught nation (the Philippines) allegorically through the daily struggles of its own identity- and power-fraught inhabitants (cross-dressers, nationalist politicians who buy European fashions, etc.). Some of the characters are rather superficially developed, but I suppose that's to be expected in a novel of probably a hundred characters. I would probably read another Hagedorn novel.
And yet... And yet, I wish the book didn't take itself so seriously. I wish when it jumped between characters it didn't also jump, for no apparent reason, between narrative voices (one Joey chapter is told in first-person, the next omnisciently, etc.). I wish Hagedorn critiqued the racist nickname "dogeater" without toying, at several times in the book, with the possibility that it may be a truthful description -- that whenever a dog pads into a scene, she didn't make me worry that it was going to be beaten, bloodied and eaten. I wish in the concluding chapters the book didn't just flash forward through the lives of Joey and Rio, the two main characters, leaving us completely uncertain about the futures of smaller characters.
Am I imposing impossible "wholeness" upon a "hybrid" novel the same way that international social forces expect cultural consistency from a collection of islands that have been occupied, conquered, visited and culturally "assimilated" so many times they themselves don't know "who" they are? Probably. I'll admit freely that I could have read the book more closely, that much of Hagedorn's political project in this novel may have gone undetected or misunderstood by me. And yet, although I liked the book, I can't help but feel like it leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
This is another book I read for my Asian-American lit class that I wouldn't have read if it hadn't been assigned, and if I had read it, I likely wouldn't have finished it because I found the writing style off-putting. It's very fast, jarring, jolting, MTV generation kind of thing. The perspective shifts from chapter to chapter. One chapter is first person, the next third. You are thrown into the lives of seemingly unrelated people from differing classes, and it's over-stimulating and fast. You don't always know what's going on, it's chaos, everyone is using everyone else, peppered with pop culture references from the time. You get multiple characters' perspectives -- you don't always know what to believe or who you can trust.
That said, I did feel like the novel threw me into "post-colonial" Manila, Phillipines -- it takes place in different periods but I guess a lot of it takes place in the '70s during the dictatorship of that time. I felt like I got a real flavor for that experience, and I am very glad for that.
Seems to be a lot about the culture created by the corrupt ruling elite and shows how imperialism still structured people's lives and minds through pop culture. It seems to champion people living on the society's margins -- and tries to tell their stories. It's very kaleidoscopic and depicts a lot of horror and toxic suffering going on in various people's lives.
I enjoyed the last half much better than the first. The plot got very engrossing and I found various things moving. After having finished it I can say I'm very glad I read it. I feel like I learned a lot about this author's take on the "dog-eat-dog," power-lusty world in Manila evoked. I feel like I learned a lot. But it's not really my kind of book. Still, glad I read it.
Hagedorn describes this book as a love letter to her country. While she certainly is a gifted writer, I can't say that I enjoyed this book. She paints the picture of several different characters and it was difficult for me to keep track of them all. Even more, she paints a realistic picture of the Philippines: there is wealth and then there is extreme poverty. And the poverty that she depicts is brutally painful to read. While I appreciated learning more about the reality of the Philippines, this was a difficult book to read. And in many ways, because this book is more about the country than the characters, I had a difficult time relating to any of the characters in the book. Ria stand out to me as the most memorable, but there weren't many portions of the book featuring her perspective.
The over-sized cast in this book represent variations on a dull theme. Except for the narrator, who is something of a blank slate, all the major characters are vain, corrupt, dissolute, uncaring, and nasty. The plot does not move much either, except for some moderate excitement near the end as some characters try to evade the police, and the style is fairly plodding except for a few lyrical flights. The bits of historical and political commentary fail to tie in to the main part of the book.
This is the first book I read in March 2020, and I somehow found it hard to finish due to a lot of tasks and the anxiety brought about by the pandemic. Undoubtedly, Hagedorn rendered the lyricism and the kaleidoscopic events very well. A staple reading on postcolonial literature, it has depicted the Americanization of the Filipinos by showing the colonizers’ influence that may appear innocuous at first: US films, materialism, small talks, inferiority complex, colonial mentality, Western beauty standards, and so on. It also takes a jab on the Marcos regime and the tomfoolery of the dictatorship, making those who are already powerful to be more power-hungry. We pay attention to four storylines: the ruling family’s utter disregard for the people they exploited, filthy rich businessmen, the struggle of the guerrillas, and the poverty sweeping the while country. Dogeaters is driven not by plot but by characters and the cultural strains of a country plagued by oppressive influences by the American occupation. Thus it was hard to follow, with the shifting perspectives and a mixture of letters, news items, and quotations. It makes up an interesting material for literature majors. I suggest the following topics for discussion: (1)in this book, much of the emphasis is the upper and lower class dichotomy. What does it say about the middle class society in the Philippines? (2) The text written by a Filipino writer who chose to publish it overseas; could the reception be any different if it was published in Hagedorn home country? What is its implication to the publishing industry in/literature of the Philippines? (3) It may be compared with Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (4) Comparing the material conditions in Manila in the milieu of the book to the present-day Manila, how are they similar and different? 2.5/5
i know i’m supposed to be in love with this book because it has a lot of socio-cultural and political underpinnings (therefore making me feel that loving this book is the politically correct thing to do), but this just wasn’t *it* for me. if this was written in order to ‘document’ the ML time, albeit in a rather unusual manner, then congrats on a job well done — it shows its readers that while ML was a good time for the M family’s cronies and the M family themselves, it was unfortunately a bad time for those below them (whether or not they were against the former), as they tried so hard to pick crumbs up from the rich & famous above them. however, if this was supposed to be a didactic thing, then it has failed immensely because there is no way in hell that a person who does not care about philippine politics/a person who is not in a humanities program is reading this. i mean, cool, it’s definitely a work you can appreciate form-wise. hagedorn has excellent control of taglish and occasional spanish (exposing the social classes as well as the levels of education attained by her ever-changing narrators). furthermore, her imagery can be quite vivid, so you can take inspiration from that as a writer. on the other hand, it is unfortunately also such a snooze fest that will take you forever to read through, and it strangely feels so draggy even though this is supposedly just a short read.
i’m only giving it 3 stars because my degree program allows me to appreciate and intellectualize texts like this, but i promise you that my non-academic self (or anyone who isn’t in the humanities) would only give this 1 or 2 stars.
can you write a thesis (or any important paper for that matter) about this? definitely. there is so much to unpack and there are various lenses that you can use for analysis.
should you read it for fun? nope. not at all..… unless, of course, your concept of fun is falling asleep in the middle of reading every chapter.
From 1990, this is a precursor to a lot of today's Filipino-American writing. The book follows several different characters in Marcos-era Manila, ranging across the class spectrum. It's similar in style (as my wife pointed out) to Tommy Orange's "There There", following an almost overwhelming number of different characters, whose stories ultimately come together loosely. This approach, while distracting at times, does effectively combat mainstream American culture's tendency to create a monolithic view of groups of people of color--intentionally showing a wide diversity of individuals. Also much like with Orange's book, I felt I had favorite characters that I wished I could spend more time with--particularly Rio and her Lola.
While Hagedorn doesn't shy away from showing the brutal and violent side of the dictatorship, I thought one of the most interesting parts of the book was the way she foregrounded media (TV, movies, and music) and its various roles in the lives of the characters--cultivating certain types of hopes and dreams, cultivating certain standards of beauty, and serving as a contested object that the dictatorship (and Imelda Marcos in particular) used to maintain legitimacy and encourage certain ideas. The passage near the end with a journalist interviewing Imelda Marcos was absolutely my favorite part and was a fascinating portrait of an individual projecting "soft power"--actually in a way that reminded me not a little of Donald Trump.
Jessica Hagedorn’s portrait of the Philippines in the late 1950s during the Marcos era is kaleidoscopic and fragmented but succeeds in bringing the time and place to life in a way that a more linear narrative might have failed to do. It comprises a series of vignettes or short stories rather than a sustained storyline, with a large cast of characters from the richest to the poorest and most humble. What binds them all together is their attempt to live their lives under a repressive, corrupt and often brutal regime. Some of the characters do indeed verge on caricature, but many feel very real and evoke the readers’ sympathies. Complex and occasionally confusing, the novel presupposes at least some knowledge of the country’s history and politics, without which it is difficult to navigate the twists and turns of the narrative. Overall I enjoyed it, but definitely feel it would reward a re-reading and some background research beforehand.
This was a beautifully intense book that often bordered on the surreal. I loved the way it was written, in a series of interconnecting vignettes that captured so much of a city, a country, and a culture. Dogeaters captured the myriad ways the colonial legacy of both Spain and America influenced the Philippines, from the obsession with Hollywood and American movie stars to the way a grandmother is considered aristocratic because she lives in Spain and refuses to speak anything but Castilian Spanish. The atmosphere was beautifully wrought, from the 'pinakbet with bitter-melon, squash, okra, and stringbeans stewed with cloves of garlic, bits of pork fat, and salty fermented shrimp bagoong' to the Rita Hayworth-esque tints Dolores Gonzaga puts in her hair.
And even better than the atmosphere were the many characters populating this book. They run the gamut from a 'war baby' gay prostitute to a social-climbing teenager whose fair skin is her currency. Among my favorites were Rio Gonzaga, the ten year old daughter of a wealthy family who details all the goings-on with frank eyes, the aforementioned gay prostitute Joey Sands, and Daisy Avila, a beauty queen turned freedom fighter.
This story was gorgeously written, and it utilized so many interesting literary techniques. An interrogation scene was interspersed with bits of dialogue from a radio soap opera, but the interrogation was written in parentheses and a smaller font, making the sugary sweet romantic soap opera mask this episode of governmental brutality. What a truly incredible book.
Our country belongs to women who easily shed tears and men who are ashamed to weep.
Dogeaters is my first Jessica Hagedorn book, and it certainly won't be my last. This is the fourth novel that I've read that revolved around the Martial Law period (more suggestions, anyone?). Admittedly, though, this wasn't really the kind of book I was expecting to read when I started my odyssey to scavenge for novels related to the dictatorship. What I was hoping for is something that would provide a clear picture of what it really felt like to live in that period - the horrors it entailed, the hardships people encountered, and so on. You get the gist. I wanted to back up the fragments of stories I've heard from my parents and from other grown-ups. You might be thinking, if that's the case, then why don't I simply read some history textbooks? But I want to acquaint myself more with Philippine literature. At the same time, I also want to equip myself with more knowledge about my country's past, but without the burden of having to skim through thick academic textbooks. (Though I suppose I really ought to do that one of these days.) I can't say precisely what I'm looking for - perhaps drama? maybe some activism? more of the violence that happened before?
In my opinion, though, Dogeaters would be better appreciated by people who are actually born during the Martial Law, or those who are pretty much familiar with the intricacies of what happened back then, not someone like me, one who's knowledge of the entire thing is horribly limited to what I've heard from people and learned in class. Don't get me wrong - it doesn't mean that I don't like this, I in fact do. It also doesn't mean that I'm saying this book fails to provide a glimpse of the life back then. It's just, I think, a different perspective of what transpired in the past, far from what one would normally expect, and I guess that's exactly what renders this text endearing.
So, despite everything, why do I like this?
It's a very, very ambitious piece. You have to admit that. It's like Hagedorn was drugged when this was written because of the quality of the writing; and also because of the mere fact that it's bustling with activity. It seems so mobile, so busy. I have to admire her courage for constructing something like this, something experimental and utterly complicated. It's hard enough to think of several subplots, and then there's the other dilemma of narrating all these snippets in varying voices and tones, depending on who's the focus of the story. It might seem like it's going nowhere, this kind of novel primarily composed of vignettes, but I believe it's just as challenging as a normal, conventional story. Here, one has to think of what to include, who to talk about, and why talk about them at all. And there's also the task of weaving all these pieces cohesively, so that later on it all comes together, into that single point of convergence. Everyone here is interrelated with the other characters, if you think about it. It's really impressive that way. (This almost reminds me of Arlene J. Chai's Eating Fire and Drinking Water.)
However, this of course has its own drawbacks.
First, it can be confusing. It's so easy to get lost and ask yourself, "Wait, who's narrating now?" or "Who's this guy again?" because of the complex web of relationships and people. The reading experience is almost maddening and exhausting, because the reader has to try very hard to keep up with the constant rhythm and activity happening. One moment of interruption and voila! - you're left to wallow in bewilderment. Second, because it's composed of multiple stories, it's impossible for all of them to actually have some kind of conclusion in the end. Usually, Hagedorn would depart from a certain character's story just when a climactic scene emerges, leaving the readers hanging, leaving everything to our imaginations. I'm not so sure this makes me happy.
I also wonder about the people she chose to include. Most of them belonged to the elite or the middle-class, echoing Hagedorn's own societal status and restricted experience. I really would have wanted to hear more from the masses. But then again, this was set at the bud of the dictatorship, so I don't think the activism/ demonstrations/ violence I had heard so much about would be so prevalent here. In a way, it's still nice because through the seemingly trivial scenarios she chose to dwell on, I think I was able to have a glimpse of the lives back then. (Although most of them were too mundane I was sometimes confused it could be so silent and peaceful and normal during that time.)
A couple of other things that I like: (1) the characterization, and (2) the writing. The writing, especially at the beginning, is just so gorgeous. I actually took a lot of notes of the phrases that sounded poetic or beautiful to me. However, to my disappointment, this didn't seem to last throughout the entire book; the writing seemingly diminishing a tiny bit on creativity as the novel progressed (but then again, this could be just me).
Pardon my incoherent review, but overall, I definitely recommend Dogeaters. Every Filipino should read this! (Though I personally don't think it's a good idea to immediately do so for those who are just starting out in literature. Maybe after a few books.)
Didn't enjoy it, and I don't want to waste another moment. Life is too short to be miserable with a book. DNF halfway through. It was too scattered, no specific style. Just seemed like journal entries strewn together and out of order. moving right along now.
Dizzying, in a good way, I guess. A good look into class struggle and privilege, especially during Martial Law. Got a little bit confusing for me but commendable with its rich storytelling and characterization.