One part telenovela, one part newspaper serial, one part culture clash and one part comedy of errors, Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn was definitely one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. Winner of the American Book Award and nominated for the National Book Award in 1991, Dogeaters is definitely a unique introduction to the Philippines.
The novel reminded me a lot of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series in it’s breath of coverage and it’s fast paced serialized type chapters. Although I can only remember a few of the character’s names and hardly any of the specifics of the novel – the stereotypes of Filipino culture and the obsession with American pop-culture definitely came across strong and somewhat overwhelming at times. It didn’t help that a lot of the cultural references were a little too specific and a little too dated for me to fully understand them.
Where Hagedorn really grabs the reader is with her caricatures — her over the top descriptions and dialogues. From the hustling DJ Joey to the various rich and pseudo-rich heiresses the characters are definitely interesting and lively. One scene that stands out is when the President’s wife is giving an interview to an American reporter and her stories and reactions and the descriptions of her and her actions are captivating.
The one thing I learned was that apparently Filipinos use (or used, in this novel at least) a lot of Spanish words and slang. It was odd to read words in Spanish and then mixed with Filipino and English. It was a true potluck of languages. Hagedorn writes as people (I’m assuming) talk in the Philippines and it was fascinating to read. In addition there were two great quotes that I identified with that I wanted to share. One dealt with reading, which we all love:
“She would describe each chapter as if she were reading the story aloud to an enchanted audience, discussing each character as if they were real people in her life…She read voraciously anything she could find; she said books helped her maintain some semblance of Sanity.” (113)
and the second dealt with memory and really sort of described how I believe my mind works most of the time:
“She never forgets anything. Her brain is a file cabinet, stuffed with snatches of conversations and vivid memories.” (156)
This is eerily true – tell me a strange fact about yourself and that is how I will identify you afterward, at leas if I meet you in person. I have a strange way of mapping things in my head to connect everything I know about a person based on connections only I see and sometimes it’s weird how much I can remember.
Recommendation: Overall the book was an enjoyable read. I say give it a chance.
Opening Line: “1956. The air-conditioned darkness of the Avenue Theater smells of flowery pomade, sugary chocolates, cigarette smoke, and sweat.”
Closing Line: “Ave Maria, mother of revenge. The Lord was never with you. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed are the fruits of thy womb: guavas, mangos, santol, mangosteen, durian. Now and forever, world without end. Now and forever.“ (Whited out.)