11 April 2011


Dear Mr. Miguel Syjuco,

You might remember me as one of the countless fans who wrote to you with a congratulatory note after a review of Ilustrado appeared in The New York Times. Or you might remember my thoughts on your first novel as being odd, for I had told you that I didn't quite know what to think of it. Well, forget that. I'm writing now to tell you how your work has come at just about the best possible time, at least for someone like me.

You have probably heard a crazy amount of good things about Ilustrado. (I notice you even have a "Fan Shrine" that's made its way to the top of a "Miguel Syjuco" Google search!) So what I have to say probably won't mean much, I mean compared to the positive coverage that I see, say, on the New York Times or Philippine Daily Inquirer or Time or even Smile Magazine. But do you know that the novel reminds me of Orhan Pamuk's Snow? There's that sense, for the reader, of being thrust into a story that flirts with simulations of the real. There's that same kaleidoscopic quality tinging every event while the story moves on and the main character investigates the details of a mysterious death, the dirt trails of politics, and the clues to a philosophical puzzle. Beyond all these, however, beyond whatever might be said about the story, I think that Ilustrado—its existence, and the acknowledgment of this existence—carries a significance similar to that carried by Snow on behalf of the Turkish people, or by The White Tiger on behalf of India. I make a reference to Aravind Adiga's novel because it was only when I read it that I realized the extent of what you have accomplished. Which is: put us on the damned map. You are likely to think of yourself as a writer who happened to be Filipino, and not a Filipino who happened to be a writer, but I believe very firmly that Ilustrado also successfully pushes a distinct Filipino agenda.

You see, before your book I'd never come across a review of a Filipino novel on any major international publication such as the NYT. I didn't even think that it was possible. Your Time interview was headlined by describing Ilustrado as a "Breakout Novel", but it may as well have used the adjective "breakthrough". A Filipino like me used to sit and dream and think that the biggest deal would be to receive grants from NCCA, win Palanca Awards, sign copies for fans at Powerbooks and National, hold readings at half-empty lecture halls in Ateneo, La Salle, UP. Then Ilustrado happened. I don't mean to glamorize your success, and I don't mean to take for granted these national institutions, but I hope you realize—and I write to you in case you don't—that Filipino writers need not feel so cynical about themselves and their professional fate. I hope you realize that, since reading your novel, my friend in New York, a mentor of sorts, has pushed me harder (and more furiously) to work, work, work, write, write, write. I hope you realize that my mother, a housewife who cannot be made to read Dostoevsky, is suddenly paying attention to an Inquirer feature story on Miguel Syjuco and teasing her son, why can't you be more like your namesake?

So thank you. And I am sorry that, on my first note, I'd complained that Ilustrado left me without opinion. I tell you now that it has certainly brought inspiration.


  1. *i love the book, that I gave it as a gift to someone i know who will appreciate it :)

  2. You gave it to Greg? Aw, how sweet. I love the book, too, but I love Syjuco even more. He actually replies to fan mail!

  3. noo! greg is not yet here! but definitely will buy him one :) gave it to a friend on his bday :) HI've read about Syjuco in an airline mag...that's how i learned about his book...

    he repleis to fan mail? ask for a signature photo!!! hahaha make it two! one for me and one for you :)