Filipino Canadian Literary Star – Miguel Syjuco

manuel-syjucoFrom the country that produced Imelda Marcos, lover of shoes; Andrew Cunanan, serial murderer who killed Versace; Lea Salonga, lead singer of Broadway play Saigon, and Manny Pacquiao, world lightweight boxing champion…. now comes Miguel Syjuco, the new Filipino-Canadian literary star – the voice of the Filipinos.

Filipino-Canadians are excited about the release of the book “Illustrado” by Miguel Syjuco, A Filipino-Canadian who grew up for the first 10 years of his life in Vancouver, BC, and currently lives in Montreal with his girlfriend and 2 cats.  With a Filipino congresswoman as mother and a cabinet minister as father, Miguel Syjuco knows firsthand the inside story of Philippine politics.  Add to this recipe, his masters degree in creative writing from Columbia University of New York and a PHd from the University of Adelaide in Australia, the result is a powerful insight into the country of gentle and warm people plagued by generations of colonial rule and corruption.

Two years before the book’s publication, Miguel Syjuco already won the Man-Asian Prize for 2008.  Now, the book “Illustrado” is simultaneously launched across the continents by major publishers and being translated in 16 languages.  The book is greeted with much enthusiasm with superlative reviews such as “brillantly conceived and stylishly executed, entertaining, frequently raunchy and effervescent with humour.”

The book is a family saga of four generations tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, Americans and Filipinos themselves.     It won’t be surprising to see the book “Illustrado” gaining more international awards and eventually made to a movie.

Due to poverty and corruption in the Philippines, each year, more than a million Filipinos leave to work overseas as doctors, nurses, entertainers, seafarers, caregivers, domestic helpers and household maids.  There are currently 8.7 to 11 million overseas Filipino workers worldwide in countries such as Hongkong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Dubai, Jerusalem, Norway…..  Philippines is currently the no. 4 country of origin for Canadian new immigrants. No wonder  the world hungers for information about the country of origin of their fellow workers in the community.

There are three reasons why Canadians are especially proud of Miguel Syjuco.  First, there is the Vancouver connection where Miguel Syjuco spent his childhood days.   Secondly, Adrienne Clarkson, the former governor general of Canada is among the panel of three literary judges for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize who awarded Syjuco the award.  Thirdly, Syjuco currently lives in Montreal and has worked at the Montreal Gazette as a night shift copy editor.

While success is all sweet and cheery, Miguel Syjuco admits that the journey of the book “Illustrado” took four long years.  In 2007 , Syjuco abandoned the book when it failed to make the short list for the Asian Man Literary Prize.  At the urging of his supervisor in Adelaide, he did a complete rewrite and re-entered the book for the 2008 prize and finally won.

Syjuco knew what it is to work hard, having worked in all kinds of odd jobs including bartending, stock taker, apartment painter, Ebay powerseller of Ladies handbags, medical guinea pig for erectile dysfunction.  All these experiences enhanced his life experience, contributing to an interesting personality reflected in his writings.

Now that Syjuco is famous, everyone would like to claim a part of him, and so does Canada.  In fact, the book Illustrado is set in three places,  Philippines, Vancouver and New York.