What’s New Book Review: “Insurrecto” by Gina Apostol


By Gina Apostol
pp. 336 Soho Press
Published Nov. 13, 2018

From the PEN Open Book Award-winning author of “Gun Dealers’ Daughter”, Gina Apostol, comes “Insurrecto”, a haunting tribute to America’s past and present for the people of the Philippines. Woven between the parallel storylines of Filipino translator Magsalin and American filmmaker Chiara emerges a brilliant narrative.

While Chiara works on a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War in 1901, the reader gets an understanding of the cruelty of the American general and his garrison. The two made the countryside into a “howling wilderness” by killing all men in Balangiga, Samar who were old enough to hold a gun. The literary work Apostol puts together combines Chiara’s script writing process and the translator Magsalin’s choice to rewrite Chaira’s script.

With her wandering narrative voice, Apostol expertly weaves a tapestry of tragedy for her readers. In and among the creation of the twin scripts, the dramatic action of each of the lives of the two women informs the context within which they each choose to create.

Chiara writes because that is what she knows. When her filmmaker father abandoned her and her mother, the only way she could connect with herself, and by extension him, was to make art. Apostol writes, “…she never went back to his films. She made her own. Art is her asylum.”

On the other hand, Magsalin’s life is framed by her mother’s death. After her mother passed away, she left the Philippines in search of something else. She spends her time traveling, translating and exploring New York City. So, when she sees an email that asks for a translator to accompany Chiara back to her home, she hesitantly accepts.

Clearly, the whorled tales of the women inform the action on each and every page. In search of truth, these artists, writers, mothers, daughters and revolutionaries set out to explore their futures. Like the scars of the Philippine-American War, their pasts have left them with considerable challenges. These brave warrior-women, however, dive into the next chapter of their lives. The reader watches as they advance upon the unknown.

The back of the book claims, “Apostol pushes up against the limits of fiction in order to recover the atrocity in 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.” To read the twists and turns of this fictional tale, one must be prepared to think deeply about the author’s allusions and wandering musings because she keeps this “dark heart” alive through crafty language and highly intentional prose lyrics. Yes, she pushes the limits of fiction, but she does so with eloquence and purpose. The stories she shares sing in concert a ballad of heartache and healing.

This book is for those of us who revel in the question “why?” It is for the readers who crave explanation and honesty, who need the discovery of truth as though it is their lifeblood. “Insurrecto” serves as a vehicle for the curious to probe what is presented as the truth and pull it apart. It is for the archaeologists who dig beneath the surface in pursuit of something new. Gina Apostol presents the reader with a boundary-pushing narrative which allows each of us the space to ask ourselves “where does truth fit into my own narrative?”

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