Critical Overview

Dogeaters is Jessica Hagedorn’s first novel. The author returned to her native Philippines in 1988 to write the work, and it was published in 1990 when it received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The novel reflects the eclectic life of its author whose experiences have included acting, singing, songwriting, and writing poetry, drama, and fiction. For the most part, Dogeaters has been well received by critics and scholars who commend its experimental nature and innovative writing style. Jessica Hagedorn is a well-respected post-colonial author whose works present gender, social, and cultural themes. Dogeaters is considered one of the most widely studied novels about the Philippines and is an important example of contemporary Asian American literature.

Despite being generally favored, some critics have called the novel fragmented, eclectic, chaotic, abrasive, and controversial. It is a mélange of stories and themes, a kaleidoscope of motifs and a collage of characters combined to create what the author calls a “crazy-quilt atmosphere.” It is a story that cannot be told in a traditional narrative, according to the author, so despite the complaints of some critics that the novel’s multiple plot lines weaken the narrative structure, the author justifies her chaotic mix of narrators, memories, dreams, news clippings, movies, radio programs, news stories, and television programs as being necessary to her purpose.

Dogeaters can be a confusing novel to read. Truth and fiction are interspersed and the reader does not know what to believe. By their own admission, the narrators cannot be trusted to tell the truth. The news articles and historical excerpts that the author tosses in lend an element of realism to the narrative, but they too are only partially true. The history presented is revisionist: part history, part memory, and part creative license. The events alluded to are based on actual historical events, but they are modified. Martial law, for example, was not declared until the 1970s, not during the 1950s when the novel takes place....

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