The Disinherited: A Novel

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
Han Ong, who spent the first 16 years of his life in the Philippines before coming to the United States, tackles this vexing puzzle. The author burns with rage, love and exasperation at his home country, and uses this baroque, complex novel to express some of those emotions.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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. Agent, Susan Bergholz. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Honored as one of the youngest recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship and on the heels of critical success as a playwright and a first-time novelist (for Fixer Chao), Ong has a lot to live up to with his second novel. If he falls short, his story still has its flashes of promise. We are introduced to the Philippines through the eyes of emigre Roger Caracera, who returns from America as the black sheep of the family for his estranged father's funeral. The cultural divide between these countries is at the root of Roger's ambivalence toward an unexpected inheritance. Ong tells how he deals with the burden of this gift (by giving it away, much to his family's horror) amid conditions of poverty and prostitution. Roger's own remove ultimately distances the reader, too, and loose writing cripples the novel's continuity. It is only in the most riveting scene-a tennis match told with tight subtlety-that all Ong's obvious talents perform. For larger collections.-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Chinese Filipino leaves life in America and tries to come to terms with his Manila family's ill-gotten wealth. Prizewinning playwright Ong's rangy successor to his critically praised debut (Fixer Chao, 2000) is a rather more diffuse book, despite its consistent focus on a strongly imagined central character. He's 40-ish Roger Caracera, a Columbia University writing teacher, whom we meet as he's bringing home for burial the body of his father Jesus, a notoriously corrupt sugar baron. Roger suffers silently through a lavish funeral tribute stage-managed by his paternal Aunt Irene, a privileged matron who wears their family's wealth like a glossy second skin. And when Jesus's will unaccountably (and unbelievably) leaves half a million dollars to Roger, the guilty "prodigal" undertakes to make restitution for his father's rape of their homeland's resources-for example, "doling out financial reparations to the descendants of the Caracera cane cutters." But Roger's charity is repeatedly refused or manipulated-by a formerly idealistic Peace Corps worker who has insulated herself with creature comforts; a "Missionary woman" unwilling to challenge the Catholic Church's ban on birth control; a teenaged tennis brat who lavishes contempt on all who try to help him; and 15-year-old gay hustler Pitik (a.k.a. "Blueboy"), an ingenuous romantic who wants his benefactor's love even more than the latter's money. The story leapfrogs thus among numerous incidents and viewpoints, coming to a muted conclusion with Roger's second return to Manila for a meeting with his mother Teresa, a vibrant beauty who had lost her soul to the Carcaeras' duplicitousness and has languished for decades in an insane asylum.It's an oddly unsatisfying climax to what ought to have been a riveting tale but instead separates out into unstructured, flickering fragments. The Disinherited was probably written earlier than Fixer Chao, and is in no way its equal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374280758
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2005

    Difficult but worthwhile

    A long, thorny novel with surprising moments of poignancy. And definitely also a tour through the hellish landscape of a foreign land. Touching, unexpected characters, and sharp, idiosyncratic writing really help to sear the story into the reader's mind.

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