Reviewed by Kevin Stoda
Apostol, Gina (2018) INSURRECTO: Soho, 316 pagesInsurrecto
As the Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, has surmised, Apostol's book of memes and memories, "INSURRECTO', plunges us into the vortex of memory, history, and war."
INSURRECTO takes American readers to the land of the Philippines as defined by cinema, yellow journalism, popular sports figures (like Mohammed Ali) and Youtube videos. It takes present day Overseas Working Filipinos on a tour of what it is like to live in Duterte's regimeall the while alluding to Marcos and American occupation memories which are too seldom taught in schools.
Gina Apostol takes us on this divided tour by using at least four voices: (1) the voice of an American woman who grew up and was influenced by childhood memories of her fatherwho had created and directed a classic cult film in the Philippines at the end of the turbulent '60s a la Coppola's classic Apocalypse Now film almost a decade, (2) the voice of a Filipino translator, who would like to be a screen writer herself, (3) the voice of Gina Apostle herself, and (4) the voice of official history in the form of Endotes to denote an allusion so-called official histories of American or Filipino history and culture.
To all of this are added the fictional characters in the screen places, all of whom which all three desire to write and produce themselves to a great degree.
In short, INSURRECTO is about who has control to the memories of America's great colonial horrorswhich are often ignored in AMERICAN educationas well as they histories of both Filipino victims or collaborators in occupation during colonial and post-colonial occupation of minds and bodies up through the present. INSURRECTO is certainly a novel that demands or requires novelists and historian to jump start a retelling and re-investigation of our mutual histories.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and Colonial occupation of the Great-but-oft-forgotten or -ignored Archipelago of East Asia must be restudied as part and parcel of American history and culture.
As Scott Simon noted on NPR, in INSURRECTO, the character "Chiara is an American who wants to make a movie about an event during the Philippine-American War. She hires an interpreter named Magsalin, who takes her to the island of Samar and specifically to the town of Balangiga, where Philippine rebels were massacred in a retaliation for an attack on U.S. forces in 1901. Magsalin reads Chiara's script and writes a different story."
In order to explain her approach in this texture-rich-media-heavy novel, Apostol herself has been emphasizing in a variety of interviews recently, "You know, this notion that in all of us there are multiple identities, you know, and we don't recognize the simultaneity of them. I'm a mom, I'm a daughter, I'm a teacher, I'm a writer, I'm a Filipino, I'm a American. And I really like this kind of seeing things from various points of view."
Therefore, it should not be unexpected that Apostol has chosen a variety of media devicesincluding lithographic images, posters, social media and Googling, and onto cinematographic planning and literary translationto described the complicated real-life experiences of her main protagonists throughout the work.
Balinga township in the Philippines is the key-but-long forgotten USA memory and meme which plays on the multiple narrative versions of its own story throughout INSURRECTO. I should note that "insurrectos" was the term used by Filipinos to describe 14 year war against colonialism that so many participated in between 1898 and 1912. This is a name that the author and her main protagonists relish as they take on the memes and goddesses of history on two or more continents throughout the novel.
Balinga is a small town on Samar Island. Balinga is also the location of a major USA colonial set-back which was then followed by the most brazen of American massacres since the days of the Indian Wars in the Old West and forced marches of Native American to Oklahoma. Balinga is the goal of a journey for the protagonists and their drivers. Balinga is the memory of a daughter. Balinga is the memory of a Filipina lover. Balinga is the location of a classic re-enactment in film undertaken in the late 1960s just as Ferdinand Marcos was taking power in a coup.
I short first note that in westernized Filipino-American history, the first Balangiga massacre is also called the Balangiga incident or the Balangiga conflict. Americans in 1902 claimed that a surprise massacre of USA troops took place in Balangiga in 1901 during the PhilippineAmerican War.
In sum, he term Balinga Massacre initially referred to the killing of about 48 members of the US 9th Infantry by the townspeople allegedly augmented by guerrillas in the town of Balangiga on Samar Island during an attack on September 28 of that year.
However, an even larger massacre by USA military commanders quickly followed in response. In this Second Massacre of Balinga or Samar Island in the Philippines American forces sought revenge and retribution. Specifically one General Jacob H. Smith sailed to the island and indicated to the 300-plus troops whom he brought with him:"I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me" The interior of Samar must be made [into] a howling wilderness."