Rosario, a Filipina novelist in New York City, has just learned of her mother's death in the Philippines. She puts off her return home by embarking on a remote investigation into her family's history and her mother's supposed inheritance, a place called La Tercera, which may or may not exist. But as the search for La Tercera becomes increasingly labyrinthine, Rosario's mother and the Delgado family emerge in all their dizzying complexity: traitors and heroes, reactionaries and revolutionaries. Meanwhile, another narrative takes shape--of the country's erased history of exploitation and slaughter at the hands of American occupying forces.
La Tercera is a whirlwind of narrative, which deploys all the linguistic and cultural resources at Apostol’s disposal to tell the story of Adina, Rosario and their ancestors. It is, at times, frankly bewildering to someone who doesn’t share all those languages, who doesn’t know the songs, the history, the taste and texture of local foods. It is hard to read a book studded with so many words I don’t recognize, or to have to stop and look up crucial references. And this, of course, is the point ... La Tercera expects a lot of non-Filipino readers, but the effort is profoundly rewarding, opening up a glorious new understanding of a country and a culture that ought to mean more to Americans than a twinge of guilty conscience.
Apostol’s use of dialect, cultural references, and descriptive details may confound non-Filipino readers. The excessively meandering narrative vividly chronicles the Delgado family’s desires, idiosyncrasies, and preoccupations, while the minutiae of the land’s provenance and stories, peppered with side-wink remarks on Philippine political and historical events, will either tax readers’ patience or engage and amuse.