Insurrecto
Histories and personalities collide in this literary tour-de-force about the Philippines' present and America's past by the PEN Open Book Award–winning author of Gun Dealer's Daughter.Two women, a Filipino translator and an American filmmaker, go on a road trip in Duterte’s Philippines, collaborating and clashing in the writing of a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War. Chiara is working on a film about an incident in Balangiga, Samar, in 1901, when Filipino revolutionaries attacked an American garrison, and in retaliation American soldiers created “a howling wilderness” of the surrounding countryside. Magsalin reads Chiara’s 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 Cortázar’s Hopscotch, and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. 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.

Insurrecto Details

TitleInsurrecto
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 13th, 2018
PublisherSoho Press
ISBN-139781616959449
Rating
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Cultural, Asia, Historical, Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction

Insurrecto Review

  • Marchpane
    January 1, 1970
    Kaleidoscopic metafiction in the PhilippinesTowards the beginning of Insurrecto there is a reference to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, an early 20th century artwork inspired by stop-motion photography, which depicts a figure in motion using overlapping abstract forms. This is a clue, one of many, to the book’s approach: if Insurrecto was a painting it would be a cubist one, the narrative broken apart and reassembled in highly stylised, abstract, dimensional form. It is disorienting at fi Kaleidoscopic metafiction in the PhilippinesTowards the beginning of Insurrecto there is a reference to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, an early 20th century artwork inspired by stop-motion photography, which depicts a figure in motion using overlapping abstract forms. This is a clue, one of many, to the book’s approach: if Insurrecto was a painting it would be a cubist one, the narrative broken apart and reassembled in highly stylised, abstract, dimensional form. It is disorienting at first but starts to make sense the longer you stare at it. So, this is a pretty confusing novel. I would not call it ‘difficult’ but it does require attention – this is not the sort of book you can just zone out to. It is a ‘thinky’ novel rather than a ‘feely’ one – concerned with connecting ideas and observations; it is not particularly emotion- or character-driven. If you are looking for an examination of Duterte’s Philippines, you might want to look elsewhere. Apart from one climactic scene of police brutality, current day issues are not the main concern here. Nor is this what you would call ‘historical fiction’.We first meet Magsalin, a mystery writer and translator who has returned to her native Philippines after several years in the U.S. She is writing a novel about Chiara, an American filmmaker whose father Ludo, also a filmmaker, made a movie in the 1970s, The Unintended, shot in the Philippines and ostensibly about the Vietnam war, but with parallels to an earlier insurrection in Balangiga in 1901 during the Philippine-American war. With me so far?Chiara (despite possibly being Magsalin’s fictional invention?) engages Magsalin as her translator. The two women undertake the writing & researching of duelling film scripts, one about the uprising at Balangiga, the other about the behind-the-scenes production of The Unintended, including Chiara’s childhood. These metafictional layers are collapsed upon each other such that everything seems to be taking place on the same plane – different perspectives all facing out simultaneously. Chapter numbers are out of sequence, with the different story strands spliced together. The hopscotching chapters, seemingly in random order, are in fact assembled with care and things do begin to make sense in due course, but it takes a long time and most likely benefits from a second reading (an alternative chapter order, presumably sequential, is provided at praxino.org along with other supplementary material).Apostol is concerned with perspectives, with lenses, multiple methods of viewing. Insurrecto is filled with examples of these from the familiar – cinema, photography – to the obsolete – the stereoscope and the praxinoscope with their early attempts at rendering 3D effects or moving images. Authors often employ cinematic techniques but Apostol’s chopped-up, montage style is more like a video art installation than a movie. The personal & the political; the historical & the contemporary; the colonised & the colonisers; the tragic & the absurd: none of these are foregrounded because it is all combined and presented as one multi-faceted view.Frequently you feel Apostol’s presence as a guide to decoding the book, as the text itself hints at how it should be read: "The story Magsalin wishes to tell is about loss. Any emblem will do: a French-Tunisian with an unfinished manuscript, an American obsessed with a Filipino war, a filmmaker’s possible murder, a wife’s sadness. An abaca weave, a warp and weft of numbers, is measured but invisible in the plot. Chapter numbers double up. Puzzle pieces scramble. Points of view will multiply. Allusions, ditto. There will be blood, a kidnapping, or a solution to a crime forgotten by history. That is, Magsalin hopes so." At the heart of the story is Casiana Nacionales, the 'Geronima of Balangiga', female revolutionary and, in Apostol’s telling, the main instigator of the uprising. Nacionales remains enigmatic, but she represents the obscured and forgotten figures of history, a "story of war and loss so repressed and so untold". Insurrecto is not a straightforward historical accounting of events, it is a puzzle, one that won’t be to every reader’s taste. Nevertheless, it is powerful, memorable and assured.
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  • Eugene
    January 1, 1970
    A polymath's lyricism is woven with post-colonial tristesse. A deft and labyrinthine depiction of our helpless condition of ever-revolving insurrection, Gina Apostol has created an elegant mise en abyme wherein the colonizer and the colonized reflect themselves over and over and yet over again.
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  • Gabe
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best novels of the year.
  • Miranda Hency
    January 1, 1970
    So complex and mind-boggling and incredibly meta, but so so worth it at the end.
  • Samantha Shaw
    January 1, 1970
    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 garris 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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  • L A
    January 1, 1970
    I received an advanced reading copy of Insurrecto from NetGalley and Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.I was quite interested to read this as the Philippines is not an area of the world I am very familiar with and I was looking forward to gaining an insight into the culture and some of the country’s history and culture. The book vividly describes the bustle, heat and culture of the Philippine setting. The characters initially seem compelling when we meet them, however, I did not feel l I received an advanced reading copy of Insurrecto from NetGalley and Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.I was quite interested to read this as the Philippines is not an area of the world I am very familiar with and I was looking forward to gaining an insight into the culture and some of the country’s history and culture. The book vividly describes the bustle, heat and culture of the Philippine setting. The characters initially seem compelling when we meet them, however, I did not feel like I got to know them by the end of the novel. The filmmaker, Chiara, is mysterious to the point of being completely unknowable. The other main character Magsalin, is easier to get a grip on but she still managed to slip through my fingers. I enjoyed the flashbacks to Chiara’s parents and felt these were the most interesting characters in the novel although again, I felt their motivations were impossible to grasp.Ultimately my main issue with this novel was the writing style which I found almost unfathomable. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but there were passages that I read and re-read multiple times and still failed to fully understand. The writing style is rather overwrought, and I struggled to comprehend what was happening at certain points in the novel. I appreciate that this is my personal preference, others may enjoy this aspect of it. On balance, this novel had some enjoyable parts to it and I can honestly say that it is quite unlike anything I have ever read. It is a vibrant and interesting novel, but not one that spoke to me personally.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    Insurrecto, by Gina Apostal, is a strange hybrid of a novel. It encapsulates the Balangiga Massacre of 1901 inside of the story of a woman trying to explore her auteur father’s disappearance through file, wrapped inside of a translator’s attempts to write a mystery novel about a famous woman director who visits Manila, Philippines. Confused? I suspect we’re supposed to be. But all this confusion left me with interesting thoughts about how labels color the stories we tell about history, and about Insurrecto, by Gina Apostal, is a strange hybrid of a novel. It encapsulates the Balangiga Massacre of 1901 inside of the story of a woman trying to explore her auteur father’s disappearance through file, wrapped inside of a translator’s attempts to write a mystery novel about a famous woman director who visits Manila, Philippines. Confused? I suspect we’re supposed to be. But all this confusion left me with interesting thoughts about how labels color the stories we tell about history, and about the ability of stories to shape reality for the audience...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.
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  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    God, I love Gina Apostol. The book is nervy, erudite, and ambitious in its exploration of American imperialism in the Philippines, the massacre in Samar, and the current political climate in the country. I'm not entirely sure the tough balancing act she's doing is always pulled off, and I found the ending a bit dissatisfying. Nevertheless, she's a Pinay-diaspora writer I'm always excited to read.
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  • Kathleen Gray
    January 1, 1970
    I really wanted to like this but I found it impenetrable at times. Apostol has used the stories of two modern women to tell the story of atrocities at Balangiga in 1901. There's a lot going on between Chiara the filmmaker, Magsalin who translates and rewrites her script, and the history of the Philippines. The language is dense at times and flowing at others, which made this a challenge. Ultimately and unfortunately, I DNF. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Try this if you enjoy experimental fict I really wanted to like this but I found it impenetrable at times. Apostol has used the stories of two modern women to tell the story of atrocities at Balangiga in 1901. There's a lot going on between Chiara the filmmaker, Magsalin who translates and rewrites her script, and the history of the Philippines. The language is dense at times and flowing at others, which made this a challenge. Ultimately and unfortunately, I DNF. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Try this if you enjoy experimental fiction.
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  • Barbara Rocas
    January 1, 1970
    I really tried to enjoy this book (as it touches upon Filipino identity and history), something I can relate to as an American-Filipino. Unfortunately I just couldn't enjoy the writer's style - the unnecessarily flowery language and the constant choppiness of the perspective made it difficult to follow. I tried to understand and appreciate the characters, but their unending negativity (from both voices) made for an irritating narrative. I understand the topic called for some energy of criticism, I really tried to enjoy this book (as it touches upon Filipino identity and history), something I can relate to as an American-Filipino. Unfortunately I just couldn't enjoy the writer's style - the unnecessarily flowery language and the constant choppiness of the perspective made it difficult to follow. I tried to understand and appreciate the characters, but their unending negativity (from both voices) made for an irritating narrative. I understand the topic called for some energy of criticism, but it was almost unbearable reading them loathe each other chapter after chapter. I was also looking for some research about the Philippine-American war, but there really wasn't any. I took home an ARC of this from work, but I think I'll give it to someone else.
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  • Kristine Mar
    January 1, 1970
    🇺🇸🇵🇭📽🎬📝🕶💣really wanted to like it but had a hard time navigating the prose
  • Dee
    January 1, 1970
    ~ I received an ARC copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ~Being a history major, the idea of a book delving into the Philippine-American War intrigued me. However, 30% into the book and I still found myself asking, “what’s the point?”. Ms. Apostol’s story introduces us to the sweltering heat and busy streets of the Philippines as characters Chiara Brasi and Magasalin work together on Chiara’s new film. Chiara’s character is unrelatable and sometimes excessively enigm ~ I received an ARC copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ~Being a history major, the idea of a book delving into the Philippine-American War intrigued me. However, 30% into the book and I still found myself asking, “what’s the point?”. Ms. Apostol’s story introduces us to the sweltering heat and busy streets of the Philippines as characters Chiara Brasi and Magasalin work together on Chiara’s new film. Chiara’s character is unrelatable and sometimes excessively enigmatic while Magsalin’s character only really serves as a foil to be the “educated minority”. Chiara is entitled, the daughter of a director wearing Chanel shades and designer clothing in the middle of the Ali mall (which of course she calls it by the incorrect name). Magsalin, is her translator, a native born Filipino woman who seems to be running towards and running from her past. I looked forward to learning more about both of these characters, however, the narration lost me in the overly verbose writing. I acknowledge that Ms. Apostol intended to make human characters, full of nuances and complexities, however, the characters were too complex to try to empathize with. Maybe I’ll pick this up at another time and understand the characters a little better.
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