High expectations! What else can you expect from a novel that won the Man Asia Literary Prize of 2008 even before the book was published? This ambitious project casts such a wide net of multiple plot lines and character perspectives that span several generations. Michael Dirda of The Washington Post describes Miguel Syjuco’s novel, Ilustrado, as an example of “literary bricolage”.
…Bringing together Filipino jokes, transcripts from "The Burley Raconteur" blog, real history and people, made-up footnotes and the narrator's increasingly nightmarish dreams and experiences, some heightened by snorts of cocaine.
It is in fact such an assemblage of parts, which makes the novel unique and successful in its reach. Mr. Dirda points out that the prize for such literary awards typically go to “earnest, high-minded, politically correct and rather dull books”. Without a doubt, Ilustrado is atypical.
Its craftiness may sometimes prove distractive--style over substance? That may be true for outsiders including Filipino Americans not quite enlightened enough by the complex weave of style and substance that has long pervaded the multi-layered Philippine society—a product of “three centuries in a Catholic convent and fifty years in Hollywood”. If you’re not privileged with that distinct advantage of a split personality, you won’t likely get this joke.
“Three male students loiter around Shoe Mart Megamall”, one note said. “One is from the exclusive Ateneo de Manila University. One from the rival De La Salle University. The third, name Erning Isip, is from the populist AMA Computer College. The three students spot a very pretty light-skinned girl. Each of the boys takes a turn at trying to woo her. The Atenista says: “Why, hello there. Perhaps I should text my driver to bring my BMW around to chauffeur us to the Polo Club so we can get some gindara?” The Lasallista says: “Wow, you’re so talagang pretty, as in totally ganda gorgeous. Are you hungry at all? Let’s ride my CRV and I’ll make libre fried chicken skin and Cuba libers at Dencio’s bar and grill.” Erning Isip, the AMA Computer College student, timidly approaches the girl. Scratching the back of his head, he says: “Miss, please miss, give me autograph?”
Through such intricacies, Mr. Syjuco successfully brings out the substance of his work that is equally, if not more, complex.
That’s the problem, we’ve written one book, and it’s been re-bound again and again. So many re-presentations of the war, the struggle of the haves and have-nots, People Power Revolutions on Edsa, whatever. All those Pinoy writers industriously criticizing. All those critics tirelessly writing. About unsuccessful 1970 rebellions, 1990s domestic dramas. Or the Filipino-Americans, eagerly roosting in pigeonholes, writing about the cultural losses that come with being raised in a foreign country, or being not only brown, but a woman, and a lesbian, or half-blind, or lower-middle-class, or whatever. Oh my, what a crime against humanity that the world doesn’t read Filipino writing!
I’ll just have to read Ilustrado again. Or, whatever!
 Man Asia Literary Prize
 Michael Dirda, “Book review: 'Ilustrado' by Miguel Syjuco”, The Washington Post, May 6, 2010
 Miguel Syjuco, “Ilustrado”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2010
 Stanley Karnow, “In Our Image”, Ballantine Books: 1989