Detail from the cover of Han Ong's 'The Disinherited.'
Hang Ong's new novel, The Disinherited, presents a hero blessed with a curse: a $500,000 inheritance and a family he detests. Add in the troubling social dynamic of the modern Philippines and the unexpected gift takes on a life of its own. Ong talks to NPR’s Liane Hansen about his well-crafted characters and the moral extremes they experience in Manila.
Ong’s protagonist, Roger Caracera, is a middle-aged New Yorker who returns home to the Philippines in 1997 for the first time in 30 years to attend his father's funeral. As the black sheep of the family, Roger is shocked to discover that his father has willed him a small fortune.
Roger has spent his life shunning the family's seedy connections to the corrupt sugar industry and political cronies. To honor his high-minded ideals — and annoy his family — Roger decides to give the money away, a goal that leads him on a journey through Manila's darkest corridors.
Ong, one of the youngest recipients of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, was inspired to write The Disinherited after attending a foundation event where he heard someone say “You don’t know how difficult it is to give away money well.”
Ong was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. He has written several plays and novels, including 2001’s Fixer Chao, which was named a Los Angeles Times "Best Book of the Year."