Hagedorn (The Gangster of Love, 1996, etc.) tries to capture the upheaval and chaos of 1970s Philippines by using disparate narrative styles.
The story threads here concern an archeological discovery, a servant girl’s downfall and recovery, and the making of a movie overtly reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. In 1971, Zamora López de Legazpi, a Yale graduate and member of the Philippine elite, discovers a tribe of Stone Age cave-dwellers in the jungles of the southern Mindanao region. Zamora works to protect them from outside influences but is later accused of fabricating the tribe’s existence as a pretext to help the Marcos (though the name isn’t used) regime spy on the area, which is a hotbed of rebellion. Zamora is a charming, sometimes cruel playboy and womanizer, but he’s deeply unhappy and basically decent. Recognizing the intelligence of Lina, his cook’s young daughter, he lends her Pigafetta’s account of Magellan’s expedition, excerpted throughout the novel, and promises to send her to school. But Lina, who blossoms into a great beauty as she approaches adolescence, runs away with the first man who pays her serious attention. Pregnant at 14, she is soon working as a bar-girl. In 1977, a troubled American actor, Vince Moody, meets Lina, now calling herself Jinx, at a sleazy nightclub where he’s hanging out to soak up local atmosphere. A besotted Vince brings Lina/Jinx along to the set of the Vietnam War film being shot by an acclaimed American director, whose wife is making her own film of the filming. Meanwhile, Paz Marlowe, a US journalist born and raised in the Philippines, comes home to do a story on the increasingly reclusive Zamora but snags an interview with the film’s director instead. Zamora and Vince will hold readers’ interest when they’re on stage, and the mysterious monkey people are alluring, but most of the time Hagedorn strains too obviously for her effects .
Ambitious but disjointed and unevenly written: the parts just don’t add up to a whole.