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On the surface, this is a work of fiction about a man who is writing the biography of his mentor. But the man is Syjuco himself, and therefore not all is fiction. The mentor is not a real person, but the fictions of his singular literary life are intertwined with the real history of his native land. Like all biographies, as the writing progresses, it tells at least as much about the biographer as it tells about his subject. Drifting back and forth between Manila and New York, Dufris hop-scotches from the mentor's journals to the biographer's interviews, from the mentor's book excerpts to the biographer's book notes, and from the history of a struggling nation to the contemporary troubles of a struggling biographer. Rich in family gossip and political side-stepping, the novel keeps a rare balance between education and entertainment.
As the life stories of Miguel Syjuco, Crispin Salvador, and the Philippines are revealed fragment by hard-won fragment, Dufris turns on a dime from bitterness to hilarity, from stereotype to serious humanity, from revolution to subjugation, elucidating social peculiarities and moral complexities that touch our ambivalent postcolonial nerve. The mystery plot of Crispin Salvador's death is nothing compared to the structural magic of Syjuco's novel, deftly rendered by William Dufris with all the bounce and tumble it takes to chart the feel of four generations worth of real and imagined Filipino history. Megan Volpert
To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, charting Salvador's trajectory via his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The literary fragments become patterns become stories become epic: a family saga of four generations tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves.
Finally, we are surprised to learn that this story belongs to young Miguel as much as to his lost mentor, and we are treated to an unhindered view of a society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress.
In the shifting terrain of this remarkably ambitious and daring first novel, Miguel Syjuco explores fatherhood, regret, revolution, and the mysteries of lives lived and abandoned.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Robert on 03-13-11
Challenging but interesting listen
My in-laws are Filipino, so I was looking forward to some insights on the history and culture of the Phillipines. The shifting narrative mode of the book makes the translation to audio difficult at times: a joke, a passage from a pulp novel, excerpts from a message board complete with email addresses. I ultimately enjoyed it, but it may not be for everyone.
By William A Meeks on 11-16-10
Not what I expected but a great listen
I thought I was getting another mystery story, instead I was rewarded with a history of the Philippines and a look at a culture most Americans never study. As for the reader I listened to his reading of Cryptonomicon and find his accents interesting.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful