The Characters

In a novel as abrasive and controversial as this, the author uses an engaging and sympathetic character, Rio Gonzaga, to hook the reader’s sympathy. She is shown first at age ten, narrating a privileged middle-class girlhood in Manila; later, she is seen as a transplanted adult. The novel intersperses her story among a wide spectrum of diverse and unrelated characters to give the boisterous, noisy, and fast-paced sense of a crowded, corrupt, and decaying metropolitan center that the author both loves and hates, both feels compelled to embrace and longs to escape.

The characters and the novel are thoroughly Filipino, and obviously the reader’s appreciation of the book would be heightened by knowledge of stormy Manila politics and history and familiarity with Spanish and Tagalog, the dialect spoken in the book. Non-Filipino readers may feel lost because of the hundreds of unglossed Tagalog words and phrases. These add authentic flavor, however, and the confusion that results reinforces the novel’s sense of overcrowding, ruin, and even assault.

The word alacran, the last name of the most powerful clan in the book, means “scorpion” in Spanish, and the name “Boomboom” Alacran resembles “BongBong,” the nickname of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son of the deposed president. The beauty pageant where Marcos met his future wife Imelda is satirized in the story of Daisy Avila. Hagedorn bitingly satirizes the extravagant, controversial, and corrupt...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Characters Discussed

Rio Gonzaga

Rio Gonzaga (RREE-oh gohn-SAH-gah), a first-person narrator. She recalls, from an unspecified time in the future, events of her childhood from the ages of ten to fifteen.

Joey Sands

Joey Sands, another first-person narrator, named for the Las Vegas casino. Joey is effectively orphaned in early childhood when his mother, a beautiful prostitute named Zenaida, drowns herself. Joey has no idea who his father is, other than that he was a black American soldier. A small-time pimp and drug pusher, Uncle, pays for the mother’s funeral expenses and takes Joey into his shack in the slum district of Tondo. Uncle teaches Joey to steal at the age of seven and arranges for Joey to have sex with a prostitute at the age of ten. Grown up, Joey works as a disc jockey at CocoRico, a club owned by Andres Alacran, a relative of the wealthy and influential businessman Severo Alacran. At the club, Joey meets prosperous foreigners, with whom he has homosexual affairs and from whom he sometimes steals drugs and money.

General Nicasio Ledesma

General Nicasio Ledesma (nee-KAH-see-oh leh-DEHS-mah), the army chief who runs torture camps for subversives. His wife, Leonor, has devoted herself to a sacrificial life of praying on the cold cement floor of her tiny bedroom, fasting on...

(The entire section is 473 words.)