Two different friends recommended Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters to me, so I decided to give it a try. Plus, while I have my booklist for my fall class set, I am interested in expanding my own knowledge base, particularly writers throughout Southern Asia.
Dogeaters is a hard-to-describe novel. It’s a series of vignettes set during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. There are aspiring film stars, junkies, powerful families and their wayward children, and many more individuals who give voice to the novel. The “heart” of the novel is Rio, a young girl who has big aspirations for herself. She watches films with her cousin Pucha, observes the chaos around her, and dreams of a life that will take her out of the Philippines and into the United States. The novel is gritty, nostalgic, wistful, and innocent, not shying away from the violence, destruction, and ravages that come with war and corruption.
I thought the novel was interesting, but sometimes uneven and sometimes difficult to understand. There were some moments where I was not sure who was doing the speaking, and other points where the switch in narrative voice felt disjointed. But I am not sorry I read the book, and I would recommend it to someone who was interested in reading more about Filipino literature, history, and culture. But be warned: it’s not the easiest or most enjoyable book to read. There is a section in which a dog dies very gruesomely, which is profoundly traumatizing. I mean, with a title like Dogeaters, I should have expected some nonsense like this, but I don’t approve, nonetheless.