... brilliant ... The novel brims with plot. Yet plot is almost beside the point. More interesting are Apostol’s many women, stand-ins and doppelgängers whose stories intercut and complicate ... Apostol is a magician with language (think Borges, think Nabokov) who can swing from slang and mockery to the stodgy argot of critical theory. She puns with gusto, potently and unabashedly, until one begins reading double meanings, allusions and ulterior motives into everything ... Embedded in all this violence, Insurrecto suggests, is absurdity. Balangiga, no matter how you count the bodies, was “a crime of history that no single vision can redeem.” In confronting that crime, Apostol has written a novel of multitudinous vision, one that dares to ask: In the face of so much tragedy, what can one do after the crying … but laugh?
Gina Apostol’s stunning novel Insurrecto offers a nuanced narration that deftly illustrates the power of perspective and the importance of the storyteller while revisiting the complicated history of the Philippines ... the inspired structure of the novel: all three story lines (the road trip, Chiara’s script, Magsalin’s alternative vision) unfold out of sequence, constantly challenging the reader to piece together the stories—a task that becomes impossible once it’s clear that Apostol has interwoven the narratives. Like parallel universes, all three exist simultaneously, complementing each other like the parts of a stereo card: it takes more than one side to achieve depth ... each strong female lead shines in her individuality ... An arresting novel with a timely political message, Apostol’s Insurrecto dazzles with its inventive structure and superb portrayals of women as leaders of ingenuity, creativity and reason.
... thrillingly imagined and provocative ... To some extent the novel is tackling the issue of cultural appropriation, but it never ventures close to anything like a crass attempt at resolution, instead using the complexity of its narrative and thematic structure to hint at the difficulty in understanding the confluence of history, power and the individual. None of it is designed to be easy for the reader, and the organisation of the novel constantly gives the impression of being in search of something that lies just beyond the grasp of total comprehension.
... I seek out books and movies that show how the world appears from the other side of the colonial looking glass. One of the most original ones I've found is Insurrecto, a dizzying new novel by Gina Apostol ... Now, I must admit that Insurrecto does require readers to cope with a few moments of disorientation. But let me assure you that the novel goes down easily and becomes clearer by the end ... [Apostol is] playful like Italo Calvino or Kurt Vonnegut ... It's Insurrecto's great achievement that it confronts us with dreadful things without ever turning into an accusatory, anti-American screed.
Insurrecto is a truly stereoscopic work, giving a rich, textured sense of history through the proliferation and integration of its many fragments. The novel cuts between plots (there are many) and histories (they are all contested), between genres and styles, moving with great velocity despite the book’s great variety ... Insurrecto is all of these things — a polyphonic work that challenges the reader to keep up with its plotting and to think with or against or through its complex moral reckonings ... In Insurrecto, fragmentation isn’t a road block. It’s a route.
Told conventionally, Insurrecto might have easily won readers over ... The first 50 pages of Insurrecto are destabilising. Chapters tumble in and out of order and shift ... Apostol uses techniques from Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, expecting the reader to trust her as the story hopscotches through time and space. But for readers accustomed to the jump-cuts and montages of cinema, Insurrecto doesn’t present a challenge so much as a cascade of pleasures and possibilities ... Perhaps Insurrecto’s greatest weakness is that it is too much of a polemical argument, but when it returns to what you can experience, it has much to offer.
... caustic, curious ... For all her political concerns, then, the writer Ms. Apostol most resembles is Paul Auster, who made his name by constructing self-referential narrative puzzles. The prevalence of jargon—terms like 'diplopia' and 'alternity'—add to the academic flavor. Insurrecto will be brain candy for the theory-minded, but it leaves the war itself feeling as abstract as ever.
... reading Insurrecto is the literary equivalent of playing pinball: the prose ricochets around, takes long looping arcs through paragraph-long sentences, only to bounce off bumpers in rapid-fire dialogue. The book bounds along in the present tense. Characters engage in repartee that might have been scraped from one of the wittier television shows. Literary references abound, as do references to film, music, fashion, and popular culture, sometimes cascading in passages that feel like pachinko ... Insurrecto is a bravura performance ... Apostol sometimes seems to feel the need to explain what she is doing, to make her structure visible. Maybe without the explanation, the reader would work out that the various historical sections are “scripts” rather than just fiction—but if not, the parallels and connections, the sense of history imposing itself into the present and of the present projecting itself onto the past, emerge naturally over the course of the book ... Readers might wish—like her protagonists—to have the Internet at the ready.
...With shrewd insight, inventive plotting, and stinging history lessons, Apostol...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 ... 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.
What follows is an artful chameleon of a narrative that slips easily across time and text as Magsalin begins a rival script of the same story ... In the sobering but humorous funhouse mirror of Insurrecto, the reader may forget which story they're following until a subtle cue appears. But the point is to unsettle and disorient. Isn't all of history riddled with deception? ... elegant, wry, and brilliant...
A mesmeric pastiche, a cleverly hilarious indictment, a vicious, unapologetic tour-de-force: Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto is an astonishing literary masterpiece. With a measured hand and a biting voice, she explores the blatant, often-untold atrocities of America’s actions in the Philippines ... Do not be intimidated. Treat Insurrecto like the masterpiece that it is, with patience and an open mind. Within it I found the poignancy of women artists, the fallibility of storytelling, the savage truth that is America, something like the word for home. I found this novel to be revolutionary, reclamatory, restorative, bitingly funny, eminently wise and sophisticated, an insurrecto in and of itself.
If the dialogue is unnatural, it is presumably because character here is entirely subservient to plot: it is not personal psychology that drives events, it is history. The Balangiga massacre happened and therefore will happen, has already killed whomever Apostol/Chiara/Magsalin might invent. This prolepsis extends to all the novel’s characters. Magsalin’s husband and mother are dead long before we meet them; the chapters that recount Ludo’s disintegrating marriage are as predetermined as the death of the inexperienced officer commanding the American barracks ... subscribes to the current fashion of introducing as many voices as possible ... if most ultimately appear only in passing, some will nevertheless get potted biographies in the sixteen pages of notes that close the novel, which chiefly serve to highlight the lack of value most of the historical figures bring to the story, while simultaneously undermining the fictional characters ... The game-playing that makes up so much of Insurrecto suggests that Apostol trusts Brechtian alienation to force readers into a rational critical stance. But highlighting fictionality in these many ways is risky. It is an approach that threatens to undermine – and in Apostol’s hands indeed does undermine – the one vital truth at the heart of the story: the injustice of the massacre in Balangiga.
Cinematic in its approach, Apostol's fourth book alternates between aerial shots, jump-cuts, and close-ups, moving backward and forward in time to get at a story of U.S.–Philippine relations by way of history, literature, language, and scholarship. It even opens with a six-page Cast of Characters, some historical, many from pop culture, a few fictional. While at first the book seems gonzo in its approach, the result is a portrait (though incomplete) of Casiana Nacionales, the insurrecto for whom the book is named, a woman whom 'history barely knows.' ... Dazzling, interlocking narratives on history, truth, and storytelling.
Apostol fearlessly probes the long shadow of forgotten American imperialism in the Philippines in her ingenious novel of competing filmmakers ... This is a complex and aptly vertiginous novel that deconstructs how humans tell stories and decide which versions of events are remembered; names repeat between scripts, and directors suddenly interrupt what feels like historical narration. Apostol’s layers of narrative, pop culture references, and blurring of history and fiction make for a profound and unforgettable journey into the past and present of the Philippines.