At the heart of Palileo’s debut novel is the beginning of the struggle for Philippine independence from Spanish rule, and the narrative centers on a young man named Placido Mendoza, a seminary student and member of the ilustrado class of college-educated Filipinos.
In 1872, Placido watches the public execution of three priests by the brutal colonial overseers, and one of those priests had been Placido’s mentor. The moment turns his largely intellectualized relationship with the government of corrupt Spanish administrators into one of actual rebellion. In Palileo’s confident, fast-moving story, we meet many other formative voices of rebellion as well, and learn a great deal about the culture of colonial Philippines in the process. These larger-scale social and political issues are so convincingly done that they tend to overshadow the personal and romantic sub-plots Palileo also provides. The book leaves open the possibility of a sequel, so some of that unevenness may sort itself out in a future volume.
On its own merits, The Indios brings a human face and voice to a period of history about which many readers know very little, and Palileo does a smooth and interesting job throughout.