Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dogeaters is Hagedorn’s third published book and her first novel. Nominated for the National Book Award, this turbulent book was received as both impudent and groundbreaking. In its fragmented format, it tests the bounds of what a novel can or should be. In content and intent, it represents the most radical of the literatures published in the early 1990’s by Asian American authors.

Hagedorn’s early life resembles that of one of her principal characters, Rio Gonzaga. Both grew up in Manila in comfortable circumstances in the 1950’s, had an older brother, and moved to the United States as teenagers with their mother, returning to the Philippines to visit.

After several years in the San Francisco area, where she was lyricist and leader of the West Coast Gangster Choir, Hagedorn moved to New York City, where she has worked as poet, playwright, performance artist, and commentator for Crossroads, a syndicated weekly newsmagazine on public radio. Prior to the publication of Dogeaters, she wrote two collections of poems, prose, and short fiction, Dangerous Music (1975) and Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (1981). Danger and Beauty (1993), the book that follows Dogeaters, contains early uncollected poems, material from her first two books, and a final section of previously unpublished work.

Hagedorn’s frequent visits to Manila have verified for her the accuracy of her depiction of people and places. Evidence that she is trilingual (in English, Spanish, and Tagalog) surfaces in the linguistic dexterity of Dogeaters. In writing a nightmarish account of Manila during the Marcos years, she exposes a corrupt regime and the addictive effects of Hollywood imperialism.