BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Disinherited by Han Ong + Author Interview [in AsianWeek]

DisinheritedReturning to the Real World After the MacArthur Grant

Han Ong, who made international headlines as one of the MacArthur Foundation’s elite “Genius Grant” recipients of 1997, refers to his second novel, The Disinherited, as his “imagined homecoming” to the Philippines. Ong left his native country 20 years ago at age 16, and he has yet to return there. He thought he might go back four years ago, poetically marking 16 years in his native country and 16 years in his new country. But there was that little matter of the passport back then – he still has to claim his U.S. citizenship. “Basically, my understanding of the [citizenship] process is that it’s cumbersome. And fundamentally, I’m just really lazy,” he laughed. “I’m pretty sure that I would be considered American and an outsider if I went back,” he added.

Like Ong, the protagonist of The Disinherited is an outsider all around – Roger Caracera is the American black sheep of his prominent Filipino/Spanish family, the youngest child who lacks the ambition and accumulated status of his two older siblings. Shocked to be left half a million dollars by his estranged father, Caracera, considered by his extended family to be a 44-year-old deadbeat, decides to stay in the Philippines after his father’s funeral in order to give away what he believes is ill-gotten wealth. In his quest to purge his inheritance, he learns that so-called charity is sometimes only in the eyes of the beholder.

AsianWeek: How did The Disinherited come about?
Han Ong: The first 100 pages were a false start – it turned out I was writing background to the [Roger Caracera] character. The book is about a sleepy man awakened by death – that’s the basic thumbnail sketch. And I made discoveries along the way – that he’s from a wealthy family, that his father had died, that he disliked his family. Everything converged on this scene that he’s going to be given a lot of money, and he’s going to refuse it.

AW: How much of Caracera is based on where you think you might be in 10 years?
HO: I hope I’m not anything like him! But part of the writing process is how willing you are to spend time in the company of someone you don’t totally identify with. I spent two years with these people – and some of them are definitely not companionable. Writing about them has to be worth overcoming a certain discomfort because the story is compelling and worth being committed to the page. I think [Roger’s] criticisms of the Philippines, as well as his realization of the Western exploitation of places like the Philippines, are very valid. He is ultimately very clear about that, and I think that’s admirable. …[click here for more]

Author interview: “Returning to the Real World After the MacArthur Grant: Genius Han Ong returns to writing and pursuing citizenship,” AsianWeek, September 10, 2004

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004


No Comment

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.