After three decades in the United States, Roger Caracera must return to his native Philippines to bury his father, the corrupt and charismatic head of a sugar dynasty. Once in Manila, however, Roger must embark on two searches. The first quest revolves around the unfortunate inheritance of half-a-million dollars; money that Roger sees as tainted and must therefore give away. The search for a proper beneficiary leads Caracera through the highs and lows of modern Filipino culture, through the city's luxury homes and back alley brothels. It is on this quest that Roger discovers a second journey, centering not on his native country's history, but on his family's dark past. Embedded in these two histories is a revelation of personal and political proportions.
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Han Ong, a MacArthur Fellow, has written several critically acclaimed plays. He lives in New York City.
Charity proves complicated in MacArthur Fellow Ong's second novel (after 2001's Fixer Chao). After making a fortune in sugar production in the Philippines's Negros Occidental province, corrupt family patriarch Jesus Caracera dies, unexpectedly leaving his 44-year-old, disaffected, Americanized son, Roger, much of his fortune. Stunned and appalled by his legacy, Roger announces his plans to give the money away, and much of the book portrays the hapless Roger, like a gloomy twin of the Magic Christian, going into the slums of Manila and the violent province of Negros to give away cash. His family is not really alarmed, however, until he decides to reward his late Uncle Eustacio's sexual obsession, Pitik Sindit, aka Blueboy, a boy prostitute and stripper whose fans, watching him gyrate awkwardly to ABBA songs, are moved to ejaculatory ecstasies. Pitik mistakes Roger's gesture as a seduction ploy. Or hopes that it is: Pitik falls hard for Roger, who is terminally straight or spiritually frigid—even Roger can't decide which. Pitik's crush is echoed by the more mercenary desire of a young Manila tennis player. Ong is a first-rate cartographer of the cultural map of Manila, and his novel is bracingly honest, with some standout scenes. But Roger's perpetual stasis—his "programmed funk"—isn't transformed by art into something the reader can fully sympathize with.
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