> Skip to content

One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010. Shortlisted for the Best First Book in the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010. Shortlisted for the Best First Book in the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Ilustrado opens with Crispin Salvador, lion of Philippine letters, dead in the Hudson River. His young acolyte, Miguel, sets out to investigate the author's suspicious death and the strange disappearance of an unfinished manuscript-a work that had been planned not just to return the once-great author to fame but to expose the corruption behind the rich families who have ruled the Philippines for generations. To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, charting Salvador's trajectory via his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The literary fragments become patterns become stories become epic: a 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. In the shifting terrain of this remarkably ambitious and daring first novel, Miguel Syjuco explores fatherhood, regret, revolution, and the mysteries of lives lived and abandoned.


“Syjuco writes very well indeed.” Canberra Times

“ILUSTRADO, the first novel by young Filipino novelist Miguel Syjuco, may well prove a literary bridge-builder between the formally innovative and the reader-friendly. It is certainly an extraordinary debut, at once flashy and substantial, brightly charming and quietly resistant to its own wattage. 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.”

Charles Foran, Globe and Mail

“Spiced with surprises and leavened with uproariously funny moments, it is punctuated with serious philosophical musings.”

Raymond Bonner, New York Times

“This début novel begins as a murder mystery and develops into an ambitious exploration of cultural identity, ambition, and artistic purpose. “

The New Yorker

“The book Ilustrado most recalls is Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Though stylistically the two writers couldn’t be further apart, the way Syjuco places his characters in the political pressure cooker of the Philippines’s political history achieves the same disorienting mix of breadth and claustrophobia. The book picked up the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008 and will likely be nominated on our shores, as well.”

Jonathon Messinger, Time Out - Chicago

“This is an epic novel, a saga of revolution, family, political upheaval, and personal redemption, told in an original, kaleidoscopic manner. Like Roberto Bolaño before him, Miguel Syjuco has created a literary landscape all his own.”


“This is a big, bold, cunning, impassioned, plangent and very funny book. Like Steve Totz’s A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE, another epic comedy from the Southern Hemisphere, it deftly negotiates between the absurd and the all-too-real, the cosmopolitan and the local, the nature of failure and celebrity.”

Scotsman on Sunday

“ILUSTRADO deftly veers between fake fiction and real world events, so that a dizzying elixir of 1980s pop culture, Philippine fairies and Bobby Fischer conspiracy theories mix with musings about the speed of life and the weight of art against the demands of a material world.”

Robert Ontiveros, The Dallas Morning News

“ILUSTRADO is not quite the triumph of THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, but Syjuco is witty and energetic, and has Diaz’s omniverous talent for mixing up pop iconography and dialect into heartfelt prose.”

Times Literary Supplement

“An unruly and energising novel, filled with symmetries and echoes that only become apparent in its closing pages, Ilustrado pushes 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.”

Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times

“Syjuco has talent and style to burn — he's a dynamic and funny writer who uses every tool at his disposal to create a narrative. The result is literary fiction that will keep you up all night thrilled, laughing, enthralled and amazed. Don't miss it.”

David Daley, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky

“Like every serious young novelist, Syjuco's ambitions outweigh his accomplishments. But in this case, what he's accomplished is pretty damned good.”

Randy Boyagoda, The National Post

“Ilustrado is great fun, a literary cornucopia overflowing with delicious scenes, memorable characters, and dazzling language.”

Charles R. Larson, CounterPunch

“Syjuco won the Man Asian Literary Prize for Ilustrado even before it was published and it's easy to see why. The story revolves around a young acolyte of the fictional Salvador and his quest to discover what happened to the great man. That the acolyte is named ``Miguel Syjuco'', and that one of Salvador's novels won a leading literary prize before it was published, prove to be only small steps in a novel that revels in a great deal of intertextual fun.

This fun, however, doesn't detract from Ilustrado's serious intent, which is to trace the development of modern Filipino social and political life through the 150 years of Spanish and American influence. All of which could have led to a book both tiresomely serious and worthy; however, Syjuco, only in his early 30s, proves himself a stylish and devilishly clever writer.”

Venero Armanno, The Australian

“A spellbinding and utterly original tour de force. A murder mystery, a literary memoir, a meditation on Phillippines history, Ilustrado is both a page-turner and a sequence of meditations on expatriatism, celebrity, the past and present. The prose is vital, a dizzying bricolage that unfolds with perfect control. Syjuco swings from the Phillippine Revolution in the 1890s to contemporary emails, from villages to nightclubs crammed with the bored Gen Y elite. An historical novel that is firmly of the 21st Century. The stylistic dexterity is dazzling, an homage to the greats of literature and yet a work that may come to be seen as a way into the stories of our new century.”

Matthew Condon

"ILUSTRADO 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, Guardian

“City and book: both teem with energy, a glut of styles. There's a sniff of Midnight's Children in the sprawl, or Garcia Marquez in the convolution. A young writer with wild promise. Crazily, Syjuco tries to squeeze the Philippines into a bottle, somehow trapping much of the spirit. As a winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Ilustrado is a hyperactive debut touching on themes of truth and identity. Not every channel will engross you, though some will -- like the day a Japanese haiku saves a family from slaughter. Or the coke-snorting in clubland. The tiger fable. The author saves his best gimmick till last, giving you a fine payoff for sticking with 300 pages of delirious pay-TV, Manila style.”

David Astle, The Book Show, ABC Radio National

“Miguel Syjuco writes what is, hands down, the best book you will read this year ‘

New Straits Times

"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)

“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)

"Starred Review. 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." - Library Journal

“Ilustrado will provoke audible oohs and ahhs from readers. Blame the narrative fireworks and mind-boggling array of voices, which include imagined fragments of children's books, a disco opera and the rapid-fire patter of a radio announcer. The action, which flows easily from one century to the next and back to a third, is split in location between Manhattan and Manila. But it is Manila that provides the setting for club scenes that evoke a 21st century Bright Lights, Big City. The Philippines, as a country, functions as a pulsating character. The book's sole weakness is the poorly drawn female characters; the men, however, are full-blown and rich in nuance. And the 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 on NPR

Miguel Syjuco's dizzyingly energetic, inventive ILUSTRADO views his native Phillipines with a merciless, yet loving eye, its many voices a chorus illuminating the many facets of this chaotic, complicated country. An ambitious and admirable debut.

Janice Y.K. Lee, author of THE PIANO TEACHER

"From the ruckus of rumors, blogs, ambitions, overweaning grandparents, indifferent history, and personal crimes, Miguel Syjuco has innovatively re-imagined that most wonderfully old-fashioned consolation: literature. ILUSTRADO is a great novel.”


“Vulnerable and mischievous, sophisticated and naïve, ILUSTRADO explores the paradoxes that come with the search for identity and throws readers into the fragile space between self-pursuit and self-destruction. A novel about country and self, youth and experience, it is elegiac, thoughtful and original.”

Colin McAdam, author of FALL and SOME GREAT THING

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. Though murky at times, this imaginative first novel shows considerable ingenuity in binding its divergent threads into a satisfying, meaningful story.

Publishers Weekly, starred review


'a real revelation.'


‘Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, [Ilustrado] covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour’

Judges of the Man Asian Literary Prize

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    June 1, 2010

    Vintage Australia

    320 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    January 1, 2013

    Random House Australia

    320 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo