Book Reviews

My Review of 'Insurrecto' in the NYT

I was thrilled to be asked by my old employer, the New York Times Book Review, to review the latest novel by Gina Apostol, Insurrecto. My dad’s side of the family hails from the Philippines, and many of Apostol’s preoccupations—about politics and colonialism, language and voice, truth in narrative, and split (or doubled) identities—are also my own.

For craft-minded readers: Apostol does some crazy-brilliant things with structure, voice, and point of view, all of which she touches on in this interview she gave to the Los Angeles Review of Books, which came out the day after my review was published. A snippet:

To read the novel, you have to locate the gaze — which can shift without much warning. It seems to be the soldier’s voice at first, for instance, then it’s really the gaze of the socialite photographer upon him, but actually there is that hint of everything being seen really through the eye of some script-maker, et cetera, et cetera.

My constraint was that I knew every gaze was mediated, usually by an actual piece of media. But I knew my reader would not be fully aware. It was fun to write! That was part of the novel’s structure — a kind of game with free indirect discourse (a technical matter I was working on), to which I added the destabilizing spin of moviemaking.

In the interview she also comments interestingly (and movingly) on humor and grief, the comedy in tragedy, the relationship between historical and personal trauma. In the review I’d wanted to write more on the undercurrent of grief running through Insurrecto, but I ran out of space. So I was glad to see Apostol expand on it here.