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.
The novel opens in Manila with Magsalin, who works as a translator but wants to be an author. There’s more to her backstory, but the focus of the book is mostly on Chiara and the main character of the movie Chiara wants to make. Chiara hires Magsalin for her fluency in two Philippine languages, as well as her familiarity with the island of Samar. This where her father disappeared while filming a new movie in the 1970s. Chiara plans to make a movie about a bloody massacre that occurred during the Philippine-American War, which will reference her father’s masterpiece about the Vietnam War.
I’m not sure I can untangle the plot threads in Insurrecto any more than this. It’s a tightly woven blend of historical fiction and literary metafiction. While it weaves in and out of Chiara’s movie, her plot, and Magsalin’s story (plus some sections that feature Chiara’s mother), it also touches on what the correct term is for freedom fighters/revolutionaries/insurgents, parental abandonment and the pain that comes from not being able to say good-bye, Philippine food, Philippine pop culture, false history, and plenty of other topics. There is so much in this surprisingly fast read that I feel like my brain is still processing everything.
Insurrecto is perfect for readers who like fiction that plays around with the idea of fiction, breaking the fourth wall left and right. Speaking for myself, I enjoyed the metafictional elements and Magsalin’s jaundiced view of Chiara, but the characterization in this book suffers because of all the writerly pyrotechnics. Readers who prefer a straightforward narrative might want to look elsewhere for a fictional take on the Philippine-American War and the crimes committed during the conflict.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 16 November 2018