FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Students Dabbling in Revolution

Soledad Soliman, aka “Sol,” poignantly observes about life in general but, more specifically, her own situation: “The mind at the best of times is a ruinous house, with traps.” Those traps are apparent almost immediately in Gun Dealers’ Daughter, widely praised when it was first published two years ago in the author’s native Philippines.  The statement is especially poignant because Sol has attempted to commit suicide twice and, as a result, spent time in various hospitals.  The time frame for most of the incidents in the story is the 1980s, but they conclude thirty years later when Sol is still anything but stable—that complicated have the situations she was involved in been on her psyche.

The novel is every much about the Philippines as it is about Sol’s situation within her family.  As one of her uncles tells her when she’s still young, “The Spanish conquest of the Philippines was cruel, rapacious, and ignorant.”  He later adds, “That’s the sadness of the Philippines.  It was raped by plan.  Of course, the Spanish already had a blueprint of governance in Mexico.  So the rapacity was lockstep, well-developed, despicable.”  Earlier there was Magellan’s barbarity and then much, much later the Americans—especially during the worst of the Cold War.  The same uncle (in the arms business with Sol’s father and their other brothers) will subsequently justify his work by remarking, “We didn’t invent war, bloodshed, pettiness, rivalry, nationalism, tribes, dictatorship.” True, they didn’t, but is that an excuse for profiting from other people’s misery?

(Unfortunately, that question holds no geographical or time restrictions, but I dare not go there).

When still a child, Sol hates the ostentation of parents’ and uncles’ lifestyles:

overwhelming opulence in the face of dire poverty in the country, class distinctions that are impossible to eradicate, continual attempts to impress others.  Worst of all are the attempts by all her parents’ friends to mimic anything Western, especially by surrounding themselves with expensive, gaudy imports.  One sentence will serve as an illustration.  When Sol—still in secondary school—leaves the room where she has been forced to sit through a meal with all her teachers who were invited to her parents’ house to impress them, and she notes, “I retreated from the dining room the other way, through the hall of Chinese prints and Italian vellum books and my father’s lacquered faux-ancient Singaporean opium den.”  I won’t bother to include a description of her mother’s attire.

At the university in Manila, Sol begins associating with radical students who mostly share the same concerns that she has about Philippine lifestyles, especially the country’s economic disparities.  But the scene which acts as the catalyst for her true rebellion occurs at a Christmas ball, given annually by her mother so she can display her wealth.  Drunken guests in costumes end up in the swimming pool:

“A Frenchman fell into the pool, bringing his lovely transvestite companion with him.  If he weren’t a consul, my mother would have thrown him out of the house when she saw him arrive with two tarts, one chocolate, the other Cambodian, a gorgeous boy in velvet and feathers.  The two men floated in the warm water, like large fowls dipped for plucking.  I watched their beautiful sequined clothes rise like bedraggled wings; their slender calves acted like ballast before they went under.  When they emerged, heads up, they had their tongues in each other’s mouths, a well-rehearsed act, and people clapped.”

It’s not long before Sol is aiding her university friends, helping them get a cache of her father’s and her uncles’ sophisticated guns.  The student revolutionaries justify their intent because “The [Marcos’] government is using private armies for its own purposes.”  Sound familiar?  Indeed, yes, even though their plan takes on a strange permutation of its own, as people die who shouldn’t, and as Soledad Soliman has a nervous breakdown resulting in a split personality that becomes relevant to the novel’s inventive structure.   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.

Gina Apostol: Gun Dealers’ Daughter

Norton: 294 pp., $24.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail