What are the differences between fact and fiction? Truth and falsehood? Beginnings and endings? These are questions Miguel Syjuco poses in Ilustrado, which won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize while still an unpublished manuscript.
The book begins on a winter morning in 2002 when a fisherman hooks a battered body floating in the Hudson River. The corpse is Crispin Salvador, an exiled Filipino writer, who had been living and teaching in New York City. He was working on a book called The Bridges Ablaze. It is still in manuscript form, "a glacial accretion of research and writing––unknotting and unraveling the generations-long ties of the Filipino elite to cronyism, illegal logging, gambling, kidnapping, corruption, along with their related component sins." The police are unable to find any evidence of foul play, but rumors about whether Salvador was murdered or committed suicide swirl through the Philippines.
Salvador's sister asks his student Miguel, who lives in New York, to sort through Salvador's apartment. The manuscript is gone. Miguel finds himself unable to sleep and begins a biography of his teacher with the idea that examining Salvador's life could help him with his own. He cannot believe that Salvador committed suicide:
"To end his own life, Salvador was neither courageous nor cowardly enough. The only explanation is that the Panther of Philippine Letters was murdered in midpounce. But no bloody candelabrum has been found. Only ambiguous hints in what remains of his manuscript. Among the two pages of notes, these names: the industrialist Dingdong Changco, Jr.; the literary critic Marcel Avellaneda; the first Muslim leader of the opposition, Nuredin Bansamoro; the charismatic preacher Reverend Martin; and a certain Dulcinea."Miguel decides to hop a plane for Manila.
family and his coming of age as he moves from the Philippines to Canada, back to the Philippines and then on his own to the United States and now back to the Philippines.