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Eric Gamalinda: 'The Descartes Highlands'

Eric Gamalinda (L), author of "The Descartes Highlands" (Akashic Books).
Eric Gamalinda (L), author of "The Descartes Highlands" (Akashic Books).

Read an excerpt from The Descartes Highlands

Eric Gamalinda’s complex, compelling and troubling new novel The Descartes Highlands is brought to life through dramatic readings by actors Alexis Camins, Jennifer Betit Yen, and Ben Mandell, with a conversation between Gamalinda and writer/filmmaker Jessica Hagedorn on his work. Followed by a book sale and signing.

Two young men, each unaware of the other’s existence, share a family secret: they were sold for adoption by their American father shortly after their births in the Philippines during the chaotic months leading up to Marcos’s declaration of martial law in 1972. Three alternating stories interweave the experiences of these men and their birth-father as they independently try to connect and piece together the complex story of their father and their birth.  Both sons will discover that their relationships somehow echo that of their father's and that the violence and corruption of his generation echoes down through subsequent generations.

Eric Gamalinda’s international debut novel is a contemporary work of ideas that combines mystery, film noir, and existential philosophy and ventures into the territory of such writers as Michel Houellebecq or Javier Marías. Named The Descartes Highlands after the region of the moon where Apollo 16 landed in the same year these children were born, this novel tells the story of its characters’ quest for an understanding of their existence outside of the chaos of their lives, which are spiraling out of control. 

“This novel delivers a commitment to beauty as unflinching as the bleak truths it tells — about globalization, about colonialism, about our human madness — offering in turn what seems our only, paradoxical hope: the pained telling of our story — a gorgeous and bitter feast.”
— Gina Apostol, author of Gun Dealers’ Daughter

Eric Gamalinda has previously published, in the Philippines, a collection of stories, three poetry collections, and four novels, including My Sad Republic, winner of the Philippine Centennial Prize in 1998. Born and raised in Manila, where he worked as a journalist covering everything from politics to rock music, Gamalinda currently lives in New York City and teaches at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Columbia University. The Descartes Highlands was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize (a prize awarded to unpublished manuscripts). Despite being a highly regarded author in the Philippines, this is Gamalinda’s first novel to be published in the United States. The Descartes Highlands is published by Akashic Books.

Jessica Hagedorn was born in Manila and now lives in New York. A novelist, poet, and playwright, her published works include Toxicology, Dream Jungle, The Gangster Of Love, Danger and Beauty, and Dogeaters, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. She also edited both volumes of the groundbreaking anthology Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction. Visit her website at: www.jessicahagedorn.net.

Cast Biographies

Alexis Camins has appeared in the following productions: New York: Resurrection, written by Eric Gamalinda (Clurman Theater), Hamlet (NYCT), Japanoir (EST), Killing the Boss (Cherry Lane), blind mouth singing, The Dispute, Eyes of the Heart, Antigone (NAATCO), Millicent Scowlworthy (SPF), To the Colored American Soldier (Studio Tisch). Regional: Huntington Theatre Company, Folger Shakespeare Library, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Penumbra, Portland Stage Company, Guthrie Lab, New York Stage and Film. Film/TV: Empire Corner, Midas’ Son, The Concoction, The Lost Valentine (CBS/Hallmark), One Life to Live (ABC), The Order of the Serpentine (Spike).

Jennifer Betit Yen, host of the television series Film Lab Presents, is known for voicing the lead character of Avery in the popular Random House series, The Beacon Street Girls. Her film credits include the leads in Interrogation, I’m Not Colorblind, The Martini, Stalemates, and A Reading of Tristan & Isolde. She also played Beauty in The Delivery, a short film released as part of The Lewis Carroll Box Set, which also won first place in the premier fantasy film festival, Dragon*Con, in Atlanta and showed at the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, the Burbank Film Festival and the REEL Women International Film Festival.

Ben Mandell graduated from Colgate University this past May with a major in Theater and a minor in Spanish language and literature. His past performances include the role of Paul in Caryl Churchill’s A Mouthful of Birds, and the Lawyer in August Strindberg’s A Dreamplay, both performed at Colgate University. Ben was a member and co-leader of Colgate’s student-run Experimental Theater Company where he wrote and performed in one-act plays and sketch comedy shows, and recently joined the staff of Theater Communications Group.

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Co-sponsored by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.

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Event Details

Mon 1 Dec 2014
6:30pm - 8:30pm

725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York, NY

$10 members; $12 students/seniors; $15 nonmembers.