May 6, 2011

Syjuco: Ilustrado

Posted in Uncategorized at 09:41 by Miracle

…the author hereby states that all perceived similarities between characters and people living or dead are either purely coincidental or a skewered nerve in your guilty conscience. – from the extant title page of The Bridges Ablaze, by Crispin Salvador

This is what greeted me when I first took a peek into the pages of Ilustrado, still undecided about what to read next after Henry James’ weighty Lady.  Junot Díaz was my other option, but Oscar Wao had to wait when “a skewered nerve in your guilty conscience” told me that this was the kind of bold attitude I wished to encounter in between book covers at the moment.

I have come across mixed reviews about Ilustrado – with Filipino intellectuals being the most fault-finding; but for me, a simple reader, the book certainly did not disappoint, and I agree with the gentler critics who suggested that every Filipino should read it. When we read foreign works of literature, we seldom ask what a particular novel has done for its country and we simply appreciate it for its artistry, but we Filipinos tend to have greater expectations and are more judgmental when it comes to our own authors and their works.  Sometimes we ask too much from them and because of that, we fail to see their brilliance and usually end up clouded with opinions of what a certain work failed to do.  I, for one, believe that this book is taking Filipino Literature to another level.

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While reading Ilustrado, one must keep in mind that no matter how convincing Crispin Salvador’s character is, and despite Syjuco’s foxy references, he is as fictional as Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Julián Carax, and Marcel Proust’s Vinteuil. The minute I confirmed Crispin Salvador’s imaginary existence – thanks to Google – was the same moment that I appreciated Syjuco’s craftiness even more.  It is through Crispin Salvador that Miguel Syjuco conveniently, but brazenly, addresses the truth about the state of Philippine literature, Philippine government, and émigré and local society.  One must not be fooled by the book’s seriousness either because it is certainly not without humor and jokes – “our true shared history, our sweetly bitter commentary.”

Ilustrado held some surprises for me including the mention of the protagonist’s childhood friends from Santo Nino Village, JP and Ping-J. I recognized them as the Villegases, also childhood acquaintances of mine.  I loved how Syjuco described the Ilonggo language as having a “molasses accent”, and also that bit about Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.  I liked many other things about this book but pages 205 to 209 contain most of my favorite lines and I suggest you read the entire book and hopefully, feel the same way about those pages.

How can anyone estimate the ballistic quality of words? Invisible things happen in intangible moments. What should keep us writing is precisely that possibility of explosions.

You must learn this while you are young… write to explain the world to yourself and to others… just write, and write justly… don’t make things new, make them whole.

My only disappointment while reading this came when Mama, seeing the book in my hands, uttered in a very calm and casual tone, “Oh, Ilustrado. I was at NBS during its book-signing. Gwapo man ang author ana.”
Me: WHAT?! MA!!! WHAT?! HA?!
Mama: Oo.

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