Miguel Syjuco FanShrine

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Miguel Syjuco or Ilustrado
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Bio's & REVIEW'S


Garnering international prizes and acclaim before its publication, Ilustrado has been called “brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed . . .It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor” (2008 Man Asian Literary Prize panel of judges).

It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River—taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Gone, too, is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families. Miguel, his student and only remaining friend, sets out for Manila to investigate.

To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, piecing together Salvador’s story through his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic 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.

Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent.


“A dazzling and virtuosic adventure in reading ... the author's post-modernist bag of tricks also contains a whip-crack narrative skill that's as reminiscent of Dickens as it is of Roberto Bolaño ... Syjuco is a writer already touched by greatness ... a remarkably impressive and utterly persuasive novel. Its author may succeed with the Nobel committee.”
—Joseph O’Connor, The Guardian

“Ambitious . . . In a daring literary performance, Syjuco weaves the invented with the factual . . . Ilustrado is being presented as a tracing of 150 years of Philippine history, but it’s considerably more than that . . . Spiced with surprises and leavened with uproariously funny moments, it is punctuated with serious philosophical musings.”
—Raymond Bonner, The New York Times Book Review

“Wildly entertaining ... absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humor ... Syjuco is only in his mid-30s, and he already possesses the wand of the enchanter.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Bristling with comic verve, metafictional playfulness, and an undertone of expatriate nostalgia that belies Syjuco's age, Ilustrado is an impressive vibrant mix of Borgesian literary labyrinth and acerbic émigré comedy."
The Sunday Times

“An extraordinary debut, at once flashy and substantial, brightly charming and quietly resistant to its own wattage . . . Syjuco’s gifts for pastiche, his protean narrative energy, are in particular evidence in these pitch-perfect fictions of the fictions of his fictional author . . . An exuberant, funny novel that neither takes its grand ambitions too seriously, nor pretends to be measuring itself by any less a scale of intent. How Syjuco . . . has done this is foremost a testament to his prodigious gifts . . . With his dazzling first foray, Syjuco suggest how his new Asia, his new identity, must ‘look’ on the page and between the covers. That look is unexpected and fresh, quite unlike anything that has been seen before.”
—Charles Foran, The Globe and Mail

“Enormously accomplished … Syjuco’s ex­ceptional novel exceeds its heightened expectations, serving notice that a bril­liant new talent has arrived, somehow fully formed.”
The Walrus

 Ilustrado exceeds all expectations ... a staggering, indelible debut.”
Quill & Quire (starred)

“Believe the hype, or at least, believe most if it: Like every serious young novelist, Syjuco’s ambitions outweigh his accomplishments. But in this case, what he’s accomplished is pretty damned good… An impressive achievement … Syjuco has shown us, with his first book, just how writing, in so many, many ways, can inspire and satisfy.”
Randy Boyagoda, The National Post.

“This is a big, bold, cunning, impassioned, plangent and very funny book.”
Scotland on Sunday

 “Beyond Ilustrado's furious skewering of Filipino elites is writing that bristles with surprising imagery...Ilustrado pushed readers into considering matters of authenticity, identity and belonging. Despite its various comic turns, it is ultimately a tragedy – a raw reminder of the fact that we can never, really, find our way back home.”
The Financial Times

“The shooting star of Filipino fiction … Given the reception so far, it would be a shock were Ilustrado not nominated for top literary prizes in Canada and around the world.”
—John Barber, The Globe and Mail

 Ambitious style-bending is pure payoff… A clear frontrunner for book of the year.”
Vue, Edmonton.

“Fusing a cynical sense of humour with an original take on the universal struggle for salvation, [Syjuco] vindicates the idea that individuals and nations alike can, whatever their faults become once again illustrious.”
Time Out

“A crackerjack..”
Vancouver Sun

“Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize while still in manuscript form, Ilustrado is a hip and secure first novel about the urgency of art and regret. Confident and quirky, with passages that recall early Phillip Roth and a structure not unlike the best M. Night Shyamalan films, the book actively seeks to provoke its audience with bathroom humor and sexist stabs at superficial melodrama. Such scenes are bookended by passages of profundity that somehow manage to always say something about life as well as literature.”
—Roberto Ontiveros, The Dallas Morning News

 “An exuberant, complex, and fascinating ride through 150 years of Philippine history . . . Syjuco’s writing is playful, smart, and confident . . . An inventive and exciting debut.”
—Grace Talusan, Rumpus

Ilustrado will provoke audible oohs and ahhs from readers. [T]he writing is gorgeous. Plus, there's an O. Henry twist in the epilogue. This is a great book. Read it.”
—Luis Clemens, Senior Editor, Tell Me More, NPR.

“The novel fizzes with his expertise in language... In Ilustrado, Syjuco uses the potency of words to illuminate the world that both inspires and disappoints him. His novel, written from the heart, will excite and delight you.”
Waterstones Books Quarterly

“Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour.”
—The Man Asian Literary Jury Prize Citation judges

"Ilustrado now suddenly reminds... of the best of Roberto Bolano; and many readers will soon be able to marvel, as I did, at the richness and depth of human experience it reveals."
—Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian

"In this dazzling debut novel, Syjuco portrays the history, politics, and arts of his native Philippines in the semiautobiographical story of two Filipino authors—both members of the ilustrado, or intelligentsia—living in New York. Once the literary lion of his home country, Crispin Salvador is teaching and working on his breakthrough exposé novel, The Bridges Ablaze, when his body washes up in the Hudson River. Wanting to know whether his mentor committed suicide or was murdered, his student and friend (who, like the author, is named Syjuco) sets out on a quest that takes him back to the Philippines for both the truth and the missing manuscript. In this literary collage—of Salvador’s work (fiction, memoir, and poetry), interviews, the biography of him in progress by his acolyte Syjuco, e-mails, blogs, old school jokes, and a bizarre hostage situation that captures the Filipino imagination and is threaded through the novel—the lives of the two writers become intertwined. As an unpublished manuscript, Ilustrado won both the Palanca Grand Prize, the Philippines’ highest literary award, and the Man Asian Literary Award in 2008. It is a virtuoso display of imagination and wisdom, particularly remarkable from a 31-year-old author; a literary landmark for the Philippines and beyond."
—Michele Leber, Booklist (starred review)

“The Great Filipino novel. The Great Asian Novel.”
—BFM 89.9FM Bookclub, Malaysia.

"(A)n exceedingly complicated and ambitious work. (...) Like Manila traffic, the novel’s narrative congeals into ordered chaos. (...) With an unflinching gaze, the novel inexorably, albeit sporadically, builds a most critical profile of Filipino elite. (...) The epilogue is a fitting ending to the chaos so ably rendered by the novel. It surprises, explains much, but also further nuances the multiple visions that abound throughout the book. The language of the denouement, by itself, is a singular achievement that is certain to satisfy readers. (...) It is a most cerebral novel that dares to reflect the Philippines and Filipinos at so many levels and dimensions. Through virtuoso use of language and a dazzling array of fictional techniques, it achieves all of its lofty objectives."
Antonio A. Hidalgo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Through his vivid use of language, Syjuco has crafted a beautiful work of historical fiction that's part mystery and part sociopolitical commentary. Readers who enjoyed Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao will enjoy this literary gem.
—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH, The Library Journal (starred review)

An ambitious debut novel, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, introduces an author of limitless promise. First novels rarely show such reach and depth.
Kirkus (starred review)

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Prize before it was even published, this dizzying and ambitious novel marks an auspicious start to Syjuco's career. The apparent suicide of famous, down-on-his-luck Filipino author Crispin Salvador sends narrator Miguel Syjuco home to the Philippines to come to terms with the death of his literary mentor, research a biography he plans to write about him, and find the author's lost manuscript. With flair and grace, Syjuco makes this premise bear much weight: the multigenerational saga of Salvador's life, a history of the postwar Philippines, questions of literary ambitions and achievement, and the narrator's own coming-of-age story. The expansive scope is tightly structured as a series of fragments: excerpts of Salvador's works, found documents, Miguel's narration of his return to the Philippines, blogs about contemporary terrorist incidents in Manila, and even a series of jokes that tell the story of a Filipino immigrant to America ...  this imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.
Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

Miguel Syjuco's Bio:

Miguel Syjuco, from Manila, is the author of Ilustrado, the debut novel which won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize as well as the Palanca Award, the Philippines' highest literary honour. The son of a political family, Miguel ran away to become a writer and has made a living as a medical guinea pig, B-movie extra, eBay power seller of ladies' handbags, and an assistant to a bookie at the horseraces. More recently, he has worked as a copy editor, freelancer and reviewer at major international publications. He has a master's degree in creative writing from Columbia University and is completing a PhD in English literature from the University of Adelaide in Australia. Miguel's current literary writing explores the possibilities of narrative fiction and examines the complexities of a Third World society involved in reckless decay and hopeful progress. Some of his goals in life are to have everyone be able to pronounce his surname properly (see-hoo-coh) and to introduce the world to the storied Philippine culture that is far more than just domestic helpers, Imelda Marcos and the guy who shot Versace. Part of the peripatetic millions-strong Filipino diaspora, he has temporarily alighted in Montreal.

About Me, Vita Nova!:                      

Age: 25 years young!

Birthday: Dec. 25. Same as JC!

Marital Status: It’s complicated ;-p

Profession: Entertainer

Email: ladolcevitanova@gmail.com


Favourite movies & TV: Breakfast @ Tiffany’s;  Clueless;  Contempt;  Sex in the City;  Gone With The Wind;  American Pie II;  8 Mile;  Dead Poets Society;  Hihintayin kita sa langit (I Will Wait For You in Heaven)


Favourite music: Hip hop of course!;  Michael Bubbly;  Anything good that I can dance 2 (except country);  SpOkEn wOrD PoEtRy;  2pac;  Kylie;  Gary Valenciano; The SeXy-SeXy DaNcErS;  music by divas;  piano music.


Favourite books: Ilustrado is my new fave, by MiGuEl SyJuCo; The View mag;  Fortune mag;  Death of the Sunbird by John C. Evans; Vogue Living;  Sylvia Plath or ee cummings;  Fiction novels like: Madame Bovary;  Harry Potter;  God of Small Things;  Catcher in the Rye; Tuesdays w/ Morrie;  The Little Prince (anything truly worthwhile is invisible to the eye);  Any and all travel magazines; THE HOLY BIBLE;  my blog (LOL)!


Favourite food: Salade Nicoise;  spaghetti carbonara;  Alizé;  Lady Grey tea;  black & white chocolate seashells; cherries;  Thai food;  fois grae;  fine cheese (Fourme D’Ambert!) and Cardonay


Interests: Writing poetry (especially when I feel bad)!;  kArAoKe;  travel; the perfect tan;  CaNdY;  LOVE!;  vintage SHOPPING;  closing my eyes when I hear crowds applauding at big concerts n pretending der clapping 4 me;  surfing the Net;  laughing at YouTube;  updating my WeBpAgE ;)


Turn ons: Gentlemen like RhEtT BuTleR;  Cala lilies;  the music of R. Kelly and Sade (dey shld do an albm 2gether!);  long walks in Boracay (LOL!);  hot yoga; abs;  Brangelina;  La Perla lingerie (corsets and bodices sizzle!);  good DaNcErS; confidence;  tribal tattoos (not Celtic or barbed wire, okay?)


Turn offs: Pushy people;  insecurity;  cigarettes;  garlic burps;  Brangelina;  tacky gossip mags;  floods;  people who chew with their mouths open;  people who text message during meals;  people who stare.


Dreams & Ambitions: Make poverty history;  2 live happily ever after;

2 write a book about my life.
Motto: “What would Oprah do?” and “Always look your best and God will do the rest.”

Final Thoughts: Aren’t ALL thoughts FiNaL?

THE ARENA (Interview section)

  Interview between author Miguel Syjuco and critic Marcel Avellaneda.
(This interview has appeared on Avellaneda’s blog “The Burley Raconteur”)


Marcel Avellaneda:
How did you become a writer?

Miguel Syjuco:
I flunked out of my major in Economics when I was studying at the Ateneo, and I chose an English Literature major instead. I’ve always liked reading and I thought it would present the path of least resistance. (Little did I know how hard writing is!) When I finished in 1998, I started a cityguide and lifestyle website called Localvibe.com, and it was there as editor in chief that I had to quickly learn how to write news, feature, profile, review, and interview articles. Since that time, I’ve worked at various major and minor newspapers and magazines, as a copyeditor, a staff writer, a research assistant, and online editor. Because I left home and chose to pursue my own path of writing, I was on my own and when the journalism jobs weren’t available I also had to do odd jobs such as a working as a bartender, a medical guinea pig, an assistant to a bookie at the horseraces, taking stock at a hardware superstore, selling brand-name handbags on Ebay, and whatever else I could to pay rent and put food on the table. But all that time, I was writing, and I managed to get some scholarships that helped me pay for my education and continue writing fiction. Thankfully, my writing seems to have started to take off.


Marcel Avellaneda:
Can you please tell us what inspired you to write Ilustrado?

Miguel Syjuco:
I started writing Ilustrado more than four years ago. I was doing some work for The Paris Review in New York, fact-checking their old writers-at-work interviews before they were published online. As I did that research I discovered I was learning about each interview subject from a collection of sources – memoirs, interviews, introductions to their books, literary biographies, timelines, excerpts from their work, essays, etc. That was my eureka moment. I thought: “What an interesting way to present a character.” It made sense to me, because nowadays we understand our contemporary life by cobbling together various bits of information from many sources – books, news articles, blogs, gossip, text-messages, actual witnessing, memories, television, overheard conversation, etc. And so, being a Filipino writer trying to understand his own work, I set out to write a novel that seeks to understand the challenges and potentials of Philippine writing, and by extension, the problems and opportunities of Philippine life which the engaged writer should be making his subject matter. Everyday life in Manila is filled with so much beauty, tragedy, sadness, courage, absurdity, and opposing forces such as rich and poor, East and West, ancient and modern, liberal and conservative. I set out to write a novel – or I should say “try” to write a novel,  because this is my first attempt in my life at the novel form – that captured all that, along with all the paradoxical nuances that exist between the absolutes.



Marcel Avellaneda:
How and why did you choose this unconventional structure for Ilustrado?

Miguel Syjuco:
I wanted to fit everything I could into the novel – Philippine history, jokes, anecdotes, a coming of age story, politics, religion, sex, drugs, murder, literature – and my manuscript initially was very thick and difficult to read, because it was presented as a linear narrative. One day, I was watching a documentary about the T’boli weavers, and I saw how they created distinct threads and then wove them in to create patterns. That was another eureka moment for me. I took apart my book, developed every different narrative on its own, just as the T’bolis made their thread, and then I wove the different narratives into each other, creating patterns that make up the entire book. I found that this allowed me to focus on disparate elements of Philippine culture that are themselves threads of the whole. And I was also able to focus on themes – revolution, duty, social change, heroism, cowardice, regret, faith, exile, nationalism – and make them bump up against each other in interesting ways. I know my book is challenging, but I think when readers see it as a whole they’ll see that it has its rewards.


Marcel Avellaneda:
Is any of this autobiographical and based on fact?

Miguel Syjuco:
My book is a work of fiction. But as Albert Camus said: fiction is the lie we tell to get to the truth. The characters and incidents that make up the narratives in my book are all fiction, but it was important that I made them in such a way that they resonated with our shared social and historical realities. The Philippines I’ve created in Ilustrado is a Philippines in an alternate dimension, which has shared some real-life historical events that have shaped Filipino identity – the Philippine Revolution, WWII, the Marcos dictatorship. The people and events are all imaginary, but the truths they represent – the flawed humanity, the mistakes we make, the potential for good and bad, the celebration of who we are and can be – are all real. The president in the book, Fernando V. Estregan represents all our presidents; the religious preacher represents the sham of religion; the politicians, the philandering husbands, the faithful family, the corrupt businessmen, the revolutionaries, the rich, the young and purposeless, the foreigners, the cops, the street children, the literati – they’re all representations (usually satirical) of archetypes we all know. If they strike any reader as seeming to be patterned after someone specific, I think that’s only because the characters  resonate with real life. And no, the book isn’t autobiographical at all. For example, unlike the Miguel character in the book, my parents are not dead, and they’ve always been good people, loving and generous to me in their own special way. And my grandparents were low-profile, decent, hardworking and simple. My friends were never so louche. My girlfriends were never like the girlfriends in the book. I write fiction unbounded by fact, and that’s what I love about fiction – it’s a flight of imagination. It’s about how things could have been and might be if we’re not careful. To me, the most true-to-life characters in my book are Boy Bastos and his father, Erning Isip.




Marcel Avellaneda:
Then why did you decide to name your protagonist Miguel Syjuco?

Miguel Syjuco:
I wanted to break down the biases readers unconsciously have when they read fiction or non-fiction. When we read non-fiction, we invest more meaning into it, and tend to think that since what is represented really occurred then it must be more worthwhile. And when we read fiction, we expect instead to be entertained, to be transported away from our everyday realities. I wanted to write a book in which the reader is always questioning what is real and what isn’t – because that puts the reader a bit off balance and therefore makes them more engaged. The book is challenging, and asks a little more from the reader than other books do, but I tried to make it also more rewarding in its way. The simple fact that people are already asking me if the Miguel character is based on myself shows that fact and fiction matter to readers. It really shouldn’t matter, especially if the book is well-made. The places, events, and characters exist only in the book, and if you inhabit the book then they are real to you as long as you are in it.


Marcel Avellaneda:
You satirise many aspects of Philippine life, particularly Manila. Why?

Miguel Syjuco:
I love Metro Manila, and I think that because of my job as editor of Localvibe I came to know it more intimately than most Manileños. But just because you know and love something deeply doesn’t mean you are blind to its shortcomings. In fact, if you really love it, you give it tough love so that it can become better. I think all Manileños have a love-hate relationship with our city, just as all Filipinos have a love-hate relationship with our country. But to just shrug our shoulders and say bahala na means nothing will get fixed. In my writing I always think of Rizal’s immortal dedication to the Noli. We have to expose the social cancers so that together we can try to cut them out and then heal. I also think that it’s a very Filipino thing to tell the truth by telling it as a joke, and that is why I present my own form of satire – we can laugh together but together we must also see ourselves honestly.


Marcel Avellaneda:
You’ve lived abroad for a few years now. How did this effect your writing?

Miguel Syjuco:
In today’s world, with Filipinos everywhere, our identity is most certainly a global one. I think my experience abroad is very much the same as that of the millions of expatriate Filipinos who make up our wide diaspora. It’s filled with the contradictions of freedom, loneliness, safety, insecurity, independence, alienation, opportunities, failure, dollar salaries, higher cost of living, clean air, brutal winters, etc. Life abroad is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s allowed me to grow as a writer, because writing abroad is more competitive than it is at home – it’s much harder to get published, and one has to deal with constant rejection and the habitual returning to the proverbial drawing board. Living abroad has also allowed me the distance necessary to see the bigger picture from afar as well as avoid censoring myself. But with every passing day I feel like I’m growing ever more distant from my roots. That, however, also means I make more of an effort to keep up with Philippine news, to connect with the Filipino communities abroad, to examine and understand better our culture, and to recreate in my work the world that I have missed these past years – and I think in so doing I am able to, as a writer, engage in another way with the Philippines and the concept of the Filipino. It may not be as immediate or direct a way as those who stay in our country, but it is a way that works for my writing. I never expected to be away from home for so long – I only left to study, but that led to more studies, and then work opportunities in which I had lots to learn. I’m trying my best to learn all I can now and to establish my writing career as an international author who is proudly Filipino, but I certainly plan to come home when I have more to offer so I can help in however small way possible. Right now, I think I’m helping in my own way by being a Filipino writer on the global stage.   


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