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.)