The Ilustrados- (Spanish for erudite, learned, or enlightened ones) constituted the Filipino educated class during the Spanish Colonial period in the late 19th century.
This sharply written debut novel by Miguel Syjuco has more layers than kindergartener’s outfit, fit for braving a crisp winter morning in the heart of New England. The combination of historical fiction and who duunit, makes for a truly enjoyable read. His command of the English language is nothing short of commendable, and the ambitious construction this story is impressive. Miguel blends several stories that he has written from the perspective of the character in question, with realistic blog posts and ultimately the ongoing biography written by the protagonist about this particular character in question. The voice of this book is not only refreshingly original, but also filters in a historical sense about the Spanish occupation of the Philippians that I really enjoyed.
The story begins with body. Crispin Salvador, Filipino champion for all things revolutionary, has been found floating in a river. The polarizing Salvador has spent his life challenging the political and agrarian system in his native country, only be run out of town by those in power. He reconstructs a life for himself in New York and takes on a researcher, Miguel, to help him prepare for the release of a book that has been in the works for 10 years. This new book will “set the record straight” and promises to peel back a snap of corruption within the current Filipino government. After his body is discovered, and the manuscript vanishes, it is Miguel who sets out on the trail to the missing novel with hopes of unwrapping the mystery of why Crispin died.
“In its efflorescence, Salvador’s life projected genius and intellectual brazenness, a penchant for iconoclasm and an aspiration to unsparing honesty during obfuscated times.”
I loved the rare mix of politics, history and philosophy and humor in this book and believe that it is a remarkable read for something in dire need of something different. Viva la revolucion!