Review by Booklist Review
Philippines-born Apostol has earned significant recognition for Insurrecto (2018) and The Gun Dealers' Daughter (2012). Such success often inspires resurrection of older works, in this case, Apostol's debut, which she began writing in 1983 at 19 and which won the 1997 Philippine National Book Award. "I changed nothing much in this edition," Apostol writes in her introductory note, although she wishes her "country truly had moved on, become [a] state of democracy and justice" yet to be realized since surviving the Marcos regime and becoming mired in Duterte's dictatorship. Her title, she explains, is a "made-up word"--"Bibliolepsy: a mawkishness derived from habitual aloneness and congenital desire." Narrator Primi is the younger daughter of a part-Chinese animator father and a Spanish and American taxidermist mother who killed themselves when Primi was "eight--seven, really," and sister Anna was 14. The novel meanders through the decade that follows and the unreliability of their guardian grandmother, Anna's countless affairs and political liaisons, and Primi's obsession with books. While glimpses of Apostol's brilliance are undeniable, the portrait-of-the-novelist-as-a-teen proves more work-in-progress than mature accomplishment.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Filipino author Apostol's extraordinary latest (her debut in the Philippines, arriving here after The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata) is a feverish tale of love and longing for the written word. In 1972, the year Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law in the Philippines, eight-year-old Primi Peregrino's parents mysteriously disappear from an inter-island ferry and are declared dead. Primi's father was an underground political cartoonist, and her mother was a beautiful but "crazy" amateur taxidermist. Whether a double suicide, accident, or something more sinister, their deaths leave Primi and her older sister, Anna, in the care of their rich and eccentric grandmother. Primi, a reading prodigy, experiences what she later dubs "bibliolepsy," a sort of swooning rhapsody, when she reads texts such as The Brothers Karamazov or the poems of Estrella Alfon. Years later, at university, she seduces writers whose work she admires, mainly to stoke the lust for literature that saves her from the horrors and ennui of reality. Primi is incurably apolitical, but her involvement with writers and radicals, and Anna's fanatical mysticism (she believes that prayer and positive energy will oust Marcos and somehow avenge their parents) sweep her up into the 1986 revolution. With acerbic wit, Primi expresses her jaundiced view of those who demonstrate in the streets ("The country had emerged as kitsch of the day, a panorama of many divisible scenes shot up as one gigantic yellow mushroom you could chew, and psychedelia followed"). Apostol's language is a constant delight, frank and full of felicitous turns of phrase and abundant humor. Layered and fully realized, it's deserving of several readings. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
Now available in the United States, the PEN Open Book Award-winning Apostol's debut stars a woman seeking out books she loves and romantic connections to their authors during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Primi Peregrino calls herself "a vagabond from history, a runaway from time," but her commitment to love, sex, and reading helps topple the regime.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Philippine American author Apostol's debut novel, first published in the Philippines in 1997, follows a young woman in love with books and, by extension, indiscriminately, with their authors. Primi Peregrino's parents, a comic book artist and a taxidermist, jump or are swept off a ship when she is 8, leaving her and her older sister, Anna, who may be a witch, to be raised by a series of peculiar relatives and others, including a grandmother who gives Primi a copy of the Kama Sutra when she's barely old enough to read, a lawyer with "a glance as cunning as a cur's," and their "aging, excessively gentle, hopeful" godfather, Diego Bastardo. Throughout her childhood, Primi reads: Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and 19th-century Philippine author Jose Rizal, who "kept butting into the curriculum from the time I was in Grade One." By the time she's 15, and then for the next five years the novel covers, she's having sex with poets or writers of short stories or owners of bookstores or anyone tangentially connected with literature and haunting poetry readings and book launches in search of her next lover. "Surrounded by language-passion, one can't help but get tainted," she says. Deliberately oblivious to politics, she is astonished by the street demonstrations in Manila that lead to the end of the Marcos regime. Even more than of its place in Manila, this is a book of its literary time, when metafiction flourished. Though it can be hard not to grow impatient with its curlicues of prose, self-referentiality, and almost total absence of linear plot, the novel is full of little verbal surprises and humor, and it's fun to watch the author play with the contrast between her self-involved heroine, who frets that "the winds of change were making people sing folk songs that were driving me nuts," and the reality of radical political change. An occasionally frustrating but often entertaining literary throwback. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.