cover image Dogeaters


Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn. Pantheon Books, $19.95 (251pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57498-1

Born and raised in the Philippines, poet and playwright Hagedorn sets her first novel in the volatile political climate of that country's recent past. Although in many respects a thinly disguised roman a clef , the book succeeds on the strength of its characterization. Hagedorn ( Dangerous Music ) weaves together the immature impressions of Rio Gonzaga, a spunky well-to-do Manilan schoolgirl whose life is influenced as much by the movies and radio serials as the tsismis (gossip) of her large extended family, with the voices of Joey, a popular DJ and male prostitute; Rainer, a world-weary German film director being honored with a retrospective; and the Philippine's astonishingly candid First Lady, addressed only as Madame, among others. Hagedorn's unflinching view of Manila, encompassing child prostitution, the torture chambers and the slums, as well as the palatial quarters of the First Family, is leavened by ironic, often humorous observations. When the popular opposition leader is slain, each of the characters is directly affected; for some it is a moral awakening, for others the beginning of the end of a stranglehold on power. (Mar.)