Insurrecto by Gina Apostol [in Booklist]
Adjectives like humorous, playful, and ingenious seem almost disrespectful when describing a book anchored by “the worst massacre of [U.S.] Army soldiers in the decades after Custer’s defeat.” The little-known 1901 Balangiga massacre in Samar, Philippines, during the Philippine-American War resulted in the deaths of 48 Americans. In retaliation, the occupying U.S. military razed the surrounding area, killing 2,500 to 50,000, “depending on who is doing the counting, blamer or blamed.”
With shrewd insight, inventive plotting, and stinging history lessons, Gina Apostol, who received the PEN Open Book Award for Gun Dealers’ Daughter (2012), puts the “unremembered” Philippine-American War on display, deftly exposing a complicated colonial legacy through the unlikely relationship between a U.S.-educated Filipino translator and a visiting American filmmaker.
Chiara, whose father directed a cult Vietnam film in the Philippines decades earlier, arrives to make a movie of her own. She hires Magsalin to translate her script, but the result produces two disparate versions. As the two women journey toward the massacre site, their screenplays unfold, overlapping, intertwining, even scattering, which demands the reader’s careful participation in paring and parsing dueling stories within stories. The multilayered challenge, enhanced by the presences of Elvis, Muhammad Ali, various Coppolas, and a sprawling cast of characters both historical and imagined, proves exceptionally rewarding.