Hyphen Magazine reviews Gun Dealers’ Daughter

“A casual revolutionary,” this reviewer calls Sol. In general, a fine understanding. But his final remarks annoy me:

” Whether Sol ever gains a fuller understanding of her active role in history, which includes her involvement in a man’s death, remains as hazy as Borges’s dream of an image modified into a tale. And as readers, we are left with the sense that the comforting dream of foolish youth may have triumphed over the harshness of revolution and reality.”

I mean, the girl lost her mind. The ethical point of that end seems lost on the guy. It’s all about the harshness of reality—she is unable to grasp her self. That is a tough end for that girl—or for anyone.  Do I have to ask a professor of lit a question I ask fourteen-year-olds in my freshman high school classes: and so, what is implied in the loss of mind? Aber? I feel like a reverse-Kinbote—the author who will go strangle readers for their inadequate intuition.

I love CounterPunch: “America’s best political newsletter”

Click here for the review from CounterPunch

Gun Dealers’ Daughter now has the interesting distinction of being picked up by the longstanding neocon journal Commentary early in the summer (its first mention) and by  the great radical newsletter, CounterPunch, started by the late great Alexander Cockburn (also of the The Nation). I heart CounterPunch.

Charles R. Larson, emeritus professor of literature at American University, Washington, DC, says of the novel:

“And that complex narration is, in fact, one of the major strengths of this classic example of madness and trauma, repression and guilt. Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter is a haunting study of misplaced actions by corrupt governments and the naifs who believe they can make them accountable.”

Bibliolepsy review, Philippine Inquirer, a while ago

“A love story–of sorts”:
Book review of Gina Apostol’s (AB’84) Bibliolepsy by Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak

Bibliolepsy by Gina Apostol is not a book for everyone. Readers who seek the familiar arc of a story, that breathless rise to a climax and subsequent slide to a resolution, will be disappointed. The flow of this story is not linear and easy to follow–it skips, repeats, digresses. The main character’s motivations are not always clear and comprehensible even to herself.

What Bibliolepsy is, is a book for those who can be swept away by the graceful and meaningful turn of a phrase, those who love a smart joke and who won’t mind, once in a while, putting the book down for a bit–to muse on some cryptic phrase, perhaps, or to mull over two characters’ opposing viewpoints.

This is the story of Primi Peregrino–born to an animator and an amateur taxidermist, orphaned at the age of 8 and who, as a young woman, occupies her days reading and seeking out and having sex with writers. “Like any citizen in a passionate country, I keep looking for some chimera; in my case, that fabulous monster of incongruous parts–text and body, manual and man.” Part One relates her childhood in Tacloban. Part Two is about her young adulthood in Metro Manila, in the mid-80s.

Part One is an unequivocal pleasure to read; the episodes are funny or fascinating, often both, and Primi’s parents, Prospero and Prima, are wonderful characters–loving but not cloying, unusual and yet utterly convincing. Just as interesting is Primi’s sister Anna, who goes on a hunger strike to protest their Abuelita’s tyranny, and almost dies as a result. It is in this first part that the seeds of Primi’s bibliolepsy–an excessive love of words and books, “the endless logo-itch”–are planted. It is also in this first part where we as readers are stunned by Apostol’s way with words, by her power to describe scenes and people and sensations, often with a rare and twisted wit: “Atorni Sugba, as he was called, has a lean, scholarly face that came from his having had to take the Bar four times. ” Or, regard “30-year-old Joaquin, who had such an unerringly awful sense of fashion I think it was his way of elevating himself to myth.”

But there is something else that Bibliolepsy achieves in this first part, seeming effortlessly. Despite the main character’s “misplaced aptitude for a foreign language”, these passages have a soul that is essentially Filipino, which is rarer in our literature than it should be. Glimpses of history and landscape meld naturally into the narrative, and we are charmed by their accuracy and vividness. The details are just right–Apostol does not come off as trying too hard, as striving for authenticity.

It is when Primi moves to the city and enters college that the book becomes, for lack of a better word, more difficult. Even the writing in the second part becomes more florid, more alliterative, almost as if Apostol believes–as Primi at one point wants to–in some deeper meaning inherent in the alphabetical ordering of word. (One wonders; is it an affectation of the writer, or the narrator? Whose tricks are whose?) Paradoxically, it is when Primi discovers her goal in life that the story starts to meander: “I was 18 and I felt my life was coming together, gathering into some purpose: I knew what I wanted.”

What Primi wants is to seek out men who are writers, or in some way connected to the act of writing, and to make them her lovers. It begins with an unplanned encounter with her poet brother-in-law. She then proceeds to seduce a typewriter repairman and afterward a writer she meets at her first poetry reading. As we follow her from man to man, poet to fictionist to politician, we are treated to a scathing overview of the local literary scene, with its pedantry and pettiness, its small satisfactions. Primi’s account of her dalliances ends with an appointment of sorts with history: the Edsa Revolution of 1986. But it is an appointment that she, in the strictest sense, fails to keep, occupied as she is with her latest chimera-component, the “intolerably beautiful” motorcycle-riding boy named Fernando, who borrows a book from the British Council at the height of the country’s upheavals because, well, it was open.

“I speak–writing mainly on the impulse of love,” Primi the narrator informs us. But Bibliolepsy, despite all the couplings and uncouplings, is not a love story, or at least not a typical love story involving a man and a woman. It is, as the title implies, about an obsessive, overpowering love of books that is both pathetic and awe-inspiring. For those of us who have gotten down on our hands and knees to thoroughly search bargain book bins–from the clean and well-lit to the downright grimy, from Morato to Recto–we will find our fervor echoed in the character of pale bibiloleptic Primi, and find Bibliolepsy a dizzingly eloquent, slightly disturbing, but ultimately strangely comforting read.

Reprinted from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 09/30/02


Read Largeheartedboy, a great music website. My playlist for Gun Dealers’ Daughter below. I’d include The Jam’s Going Underground, if I could.

Read Largeheartedboy, a great music website. My playlist for Gun Dealers’ Daughter below. I’d include The Jam’s Going Underground, if I could.

The book Gun Dealers’ Daughter is on tv: WCVB in Boston. I spoke to Karen Holmes Ward on the show Cityline. Thanks, Karen Holmes Ward.

You can see the clip here. But don’t look at my shoes: I had only one pair of formal, non-chinelas shoes in the house, because everything was in New York, where I had just moved. My mod go-go boots are extremely amusing (to me).


In Gun Dealers’ Daughter, “the Philippines, too, emerges as an extraordinary symbol of the new world order,” says The Daily Beast

The writer, Jimmy So, has a nice idea on Sol’s tragedy and makes interesting allusions to Melville, Stevenson, and Tolstoy:

“Some writers write for entertainment—Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island comes to mind. Others do it because they want to understand something—the nature of obsession, for Melville, or perhaps the obsession to see if he can put into Moby Dick every word in the English language at least once. Both books are referenced in Gun Dealers’ Daughter, and the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Yet Apostol is very much in the second camp. Her third novel is the story of Soledad Soliman, a spoiled daughter of Philippino arms dealers is in New York recovering from a mental breakdown, amid “the soft butt-end of the Hudson’s light.” Soledad lives (and writes) with a determination to understand her place in the world and the proper course of action to take in her moment of history. And what a moment, as all around her revolution is springing up against Ferdinand Marcos. Will she help the Maoist (including Jed, who she’s fallen for) or does her allegiance lie with her morally-questionable family? Soledad’s circumstance is almost too perfect as a symbol of existential uncertainty, even more so than Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace—neither of them have any firm footing on what they should stand for. But whereas Bezukhov is redeemed by his magnanimous virtures, Soledad is driven mad by the different forces tearing at her. The Philippines, too, emerge as an extraordinary symbol of a new world order. Whether one can really understand a person as conflicted as Soledad or a country as torn as the Philippines is another matter. The tragedy of Gun Dealers’ Daughter suggests such a task might be just too much….” Get the thoughtful review on Newsweek’s The Daily Beast here.

Epifanio San Juan comments on Gun Dealers’ Daughter

‘Only perhaps in Apostol’s Gun-Dealer’s Daughter and the Mayi Theater’s plays (collected in Savage Stage) do we encounter a less exhibitionistic and more ethically committed grappling with the moral and political issues of colonial war and its offshoot in civil war in the neocolony. The reason for this is the rampant neoconservatism of the Reagan-Thatcher period that followed the end of the Vietnam War. This was worsened by the ruthless repression of mass movements in Chile, Argentina, and Central America; capitalist restoration in China; the collapse of the Soviet Union and the genocidal devastation of the Middle East beginning with the first Gulf War. In Apostol’s novel, the killing of the American Colonel Grier testifies to the rearticulation of war as a deadly game conforming to Clausewitz’s instrumentalist view. In 1981, a CIA officer advising the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) was killed by urban guerillas; while earlier, in 1974, three US Navy officers were gunned down in Subic Naval Base by suspected leftists (Jones 247). However, the theme of revenge and its ambiguous repercussions in Apostol’s fiction complicates the picture. Whose will is being imposed on whom remains blurred since the enormity of destruction resulting from secret government maneuvers eludes the traumatized psyche of the central protagonist, the mentally unhinged narrator of the novel:
‘ “…a list of the colonel’s talents was alleged in the press. “Sponsored low-intensity conflicts…an instructor at the School of the Assassins in Fort Benning…projects sowing confusion and conflict in rebel-taken areas…CAFGU was his brain child…proposed and trained head-hunting vigilantes…Alsa Masa, Bantay Bayan…troops that gouged the eyes of children after they were killed…littered the countryside with Garands and carbines…dead women…dead children, their severed heads….” (227).
‘Before 11 September 2001, the futurologist Alvin Toffler expatiated on the preponderant role of “Force: The Yakuza Component” in twenty-first century global affairs. With knowledge linked to wealth and violence, Toffler anticipated an impending, decisive powershift in which “global gladiators” will cross nation-state boundaries in pursuit of hegemony. War becomes permanent, “an inescapable social fact” (468). No longer can we afford relishing the nostalgic refrains in Bulosan, Vera Cruz, and Santos, nor the metaphoric/symbolic pyrotechnics in Hagedorn and Rosca. War has become a permanent feature of everyday life, particularly after 9/11, the catastrophic slaughter in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya—the intractable vicissitudes of the“global war on terrorism” overloading the human sensorium and imploding the limits of quotidian reality.’

Publishers’ Weekly on Gun Dealers’ Daughter

Just in: a review from Publishers’ Weekly, link here.

Section I liked: “reflects the revisionist history of her country and calls into question the very nature of truth and narrative.” It’s an excellent reading of the issue of memory, though one could also say the “shattered prism of Sol’s memory,” as the reviewer calls it, questions history as well, or the way history is written by the survivors: we lose the tales of the dead.