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Q&A with Gina Apostol - La Tercera

La Tercera - Gina Apostol

By Sophie Bridges

We are excited to welcome Gina Apostol to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release La Tercera released on the 2nd of May 2023.

Rosario, a Filipina novelist in New York City, has just learned of her mother’s death in the Philippines. Instead of rushing home, she puts off her return 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. Rosario catalogs generations of Delgado family bequests and detritus: maps of uncertain purpose, rusted chicken coops, a secret journal, the words to songs sung at the family home during visits from Imelda Marcos. Each life Rosario explores opens onto an array of other lives and raises a multitude of new questions. But as the search for La Tercera becomes increasingly labyrinthine, Rosario’s mother and the entire 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

The book follows Rosario on her journey to discovering more about her mother and her family. During her childhood, Rosario becomes best friends with a girl called Trina Trono who becomes an important part of Rosario’s life. Trina Trono takes Rosario under her wing, but the relationship does not seem equal, when writing this character why did you portray the relationship between the girls this way? What does it suggest to readers about Rosario’s nature?

I'm not sure what you mean by not equal. What is clear to me is that Rosario feels like a stranger in her own hometown, and Trina is trying to help her out. But the person in Tacloban who knows the language of the town will always have the upper hand. In the Philippines, language is so important—that Filipinos have kept their own language as a weapon, almost like a tool for exerting their sovereignty, is a theme that runs through all my novels. So Trina Trono's power over Rosario because she knows Waray but Rosario doesn't is part of the political and social truths of the novel.

I love your writing style and really enjoyed reading La Tercera, do you have any writing rituals that you complete before you start writing?

Thank you. I always make a cup of coffee first!

Language is often discussed throughout the book, with Rosario often being looked down upon for not knowing her mother tongue. This really shows how important language and culture are within communities and how it relates to identity. Is this something you have experienced and if so, how do you deal with holding onto the culture you were born into?

I experienced not knowing Waray when I came home with my mother and siblings in the 70s after we had spent four years in the States at that time in my childhood when I was just learning how to speak. So yes, I wrote about something I experienced. I hold onto my culture by writing novels about it :)

When writing La Tercera did you take influence from anyone in your life? Is there any inspiration for the book's characters?

I finished this novel during the pandemic. It had originally been only about the Philippine-American war of 1899-1913. But it ended up being mainly about my mother. All the scenes of childhood with the mother, the details of the mother, are mostly my own ways of remembering my mom. So the figure of my mom hovers over all of La Tercera. She is basically Adina an guapa.

Another key theme of the book is colonialism and the effects of colonialism on national identity. For example, Rosario not being able to speak Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. She is also not often spoken to during a funeral as people did not want to speak English. The lasting effects of colonialism are evident throughout the book, do you believe that more education about the realities of colonialism will help people identify with their culture and national identity?

Yes, I believe learning accurate history is important to everyone—especially in colonized and colonizer societies. But I'd say this is especially true in colonizer nations, like the USA or the UK and so on. The inability to understand exactly the cultural and material violence that colonization has perpetrated, the effects of imperialist violence, is detrimental to the colonizer nations, such as UK or the USA. These nations become unable to understand their own culture, which has perpetrated violence on others, so their concept of their identity is false. They have a false sense of superiority. Too often we don't see how colonization and imperialism have in fact disfigured the colonizer—that is, those who have held power become unacquainted with or ignorant of the damage they have done. We tend to forget that the ignorance of the white colonizing nation is violent and that their culture is disfigured by that violence. It is of course obvious that that violent colonizer culture is detrimental to those who've been oppressed, such as the Filipinos. But my book aims to tell Filipinos that it is not they who are pathological—it is the violent Western culture that has invaded places like the Philippines (or India, or Pakistan, or Nigeria, or Jamaica, and so on—the UK is not immune to this distortion of its own historical knowledge) that, in my view, needs to view itself in a truer, more accurate light. The history of the West, in many ways, has been a history of damage—damage it has perpetrated on others.

What inspired you to tell Rosario’s story?

I was mourning my mom—who died more than twenty years ago, but the pandemic gave me ample time to tardily grieve. I'd also done a lot of research on the Philippines' war against the Americans at the turn of the twentieth century—and the pandemic gave me time to finish the novel.

What are your next steps after your book La Tercera is published? I would love to know if you have anything else planned.

I have a series of book events this week, all on Zoom because I actually happen to be in Rome right now, working on a new book, and not at home in the US. The link to the events is here:

Where can readers find a copy of your book La Tercera?

One should be able to find them at any bookstore. My publisher's distributor has this link here:

La Tercera

Gina Apostol won the 2022 Rome Prize in Literature to write her next novel, on womanhood and radicalism in fin-de-siécle Europe. Her body of work has also been shortlisted for the John Dos Passos Prize. Her last book, Insurrecto, was named by Publishers' Weekly one of the Ten Best Books of 2018, selected as an Editor's Choice of the NYT, and shortlisted for the Dayton Prize. Gun Dealers' Daughter won the 2013 PEN/Open Book Award. Bibliolepsy and The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata, now out in the US from Soho Press, both won the Juan Laya Prize for the Novel (Philippine National Book Award). Her newest book, La Tercera, will be out in May 2023. She has received fellowships from Civitella Ranieri and Emily Harvey Foundation, among other residencies. Her essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts Review, and others. She lives in New York City and western Massachusetts and grew up in Tacloban, Leyte, in the Philippines. She teaches at the Fieldston School in New York City.


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