Monday, December 10, 2018
Insurrecto by Gina Apostol
Two women, a Filipino translator and an American filmmaker, go on a road trip in Duterte's Philippines, collaborating and clashing int eh writing of a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War (In the Philippines it is known as the "War of Philippine Independence.") Chiara is working on a film script and writes her own version. Insurrecto contains within its dramatic action two rival scripts from the filmmaker and the translator -- one about a white photographer, the other about a Filipino schoolteacher.
Within the spiraling voices and narrative layers of Insurrecto are stories of women -- artists, lovers, revolutionaries, daughters -- finding their way to their own truths and histories. Using interlocking voices and a kaleidoscopic structure, the novel is startlingly innovative, meditative, and playful. Insurrecto masterfully questions and twists narrative in the manner of Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch, and Nabakov's Pale Fire. Apostol pushes up against the limits of fiction in order to recover the atrocity of Balangiga, and in so doing, she shows us the dark heart of an untold and forgotten war that would shape the next century of Philippine and American history.
I confess that I was drawn to this book after hearing Gina Apostol speak at an author's event. Insurrecto is an unusual novel because of the topics it covers, the characters Apostol creates and the novel's setting. I enjoyed reading and learning about the Philippine American Insurrection (which is viewed as the war for Philippine Independence in the Philippines). Insurrecto teaches details of the war that weren't covered in the history classes that I'd taken - we learn more about the actual brutality of the war, the ways that the US took to holding its first colonies and the water torture used against the Philippine rebels. These details of colonial period, the conquest, and the indiscriminate massacre of the local villagers was fascinating to me. Apostol covered this setting and topics without any data dumps or excess of information - she does it with a soft, deft touch.
The main characters of the wealthy, glamorous American filmmaker and the cosmopolitan/anthropologist like Filipino American translator are vividly created and their respective creations in their scripts are also fleshed out. Apostol gives us complicated characters with wit and inside jokes that frequent visitors to New York and Metro Manila will appreciate. Unfortunately, I did not find either these two leading women simpatico and instead was exasperated by their quirks and pretensions. The cultural criticism and anthropologist's view makes the book stand out but I wish that Chiara was more likable rather than memorable.
About the Author:
Gina Apostol is the PEN Open Book Award-winning author of Gun Dealer's Daughter, as well as a two-time winner of the National Book Award in the Philippines for novels Biblioplepsy and The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and journals including The Gettysburg Review; the Penguin anthology of Asian American fiction, Charlie Chan is Dead, Volume 2; and the Feminist Press Anthology Go Home!