This has been sitting on my reading list for too long, so I figured October being Filipino American Heritage Month was as good an excuse as any to get started!
Apostol uses several layers of meta to give us an overview of the century plus of commingled history between the Philippines and the United States, from colonial times to Digong. If I’ve read correctly, I generally seem around the age of the protagonists, so a lot of the contemporary touchstones resonate with me — the Thrilla in Manila, the peccadilloes of older Titos, karaoke murders, Filipino Catholic priests, mah-jongg, San Miguel beer, aswang, shabu and extrajudicial killings. The historical touchstones I expected in a novel called INSURRECTO are all there as well: water cures, juramentados, “Damn Damn Damn the Filipinos,” Colt .45s, krags, arnis, and massacres.
But the best part is how Apostol’s centering of women throughout the narrative(s) sharply illustrate colonization’s effects on both colonizer and colonized as the two main characters try to take a good-faith look at a shared history in which they both have a personal stake. And INSURRECTO does it in a way that interrogates the ideas of “Whose story is this to tell?” and “What’s the ‘proper’ way to tell it?”
Structurally the book might confuse some. I’m not the world’s fastest novel-reader to begin with; it took me just over a week to get through this. Totally worth it, though. I don’t think I’ve ever described a piece of art as a “tour de force” before, but that’s exactly what INSURRECTO is.
It reminds me of the notes-like structure of a Mary Robison novel (expanded to full chapters, of course). I happened on a review somewhere (I lost the link) that speaks of a peculiar pattern with the chapter numbering. I’d missed it, but never went back to verify it. That’s okay. The thing that helped me stay centered despite the shifting casts of characters as remembering Armand Ianucci’s THE THICK OF IT and IN THE LOOP — a TV series and film where the same actors play different characters in a similar setting. I know, you’re probably thinking “WTF are you talking about?” Just read INSURRECTO.