Manila, 2000. Forty-four-year-old Roger Caracera returns to his birthplace after nearly three decades in the United States. He has come to bury the corrupt, charismatic head of the family sugar dynasty: his estranged father, Jesus. To Caracera's chagrin and pleasure, he is now viewed by his countrymen as the representative American; a local tabloid even refers to him as a General Douglas MacArthur look-alike. And when his father's will is read, Caracera is stunned to discover that he has been left half a million dollars.
Unable to live with this burdensome inheritance, he decides to give his money away. But who among the millions of needy Filipinos is he to focus on?
Traversing high and low life, societies rank and respectable, and with a cast of characters that includes a slum-dwelling boy hustler, a middle-aged American pederast, a rising Filipino tennis player, a calculating society matron, and a Peace Corps worker turned trophy wife, The Disinherited is an incisive and illuminating exploration of the impulse to do good in the world and the paradoxical harm brought on by generosity.
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Han Ong is the author of a novel, Fixer Chao (FSG, 2001). A MacArthur Fellow, he 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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