In Gina Apostol’s novel Gun Dealers’ Daughter, rich bookworm Soledad Soliman recounts from her home in Manhattan of when she joined a group of radicals in 1980 Manila, Philippines, during the reign of the dictator President Marcos. She falls for her fellow rich neighbor Jed and his striking girlfriend, Soli. Suffering from the affects of her suicide attempts and her past trauma, her memory is fractured which makes for a strangely worded story but there is a certain elegance to it. It makes you question if she just imagined some or even all of it, but wow what a ride.
“I remember that avenue in sheer light- the haze of dust motes rankling the air. In recall it is purely sensual, a number of distinct elements- dry, friable leaves, with a kind of muffled cracker, a static spark as they decomposed; the simmer of gardener’s hose, the way water fell on earth so hot it vaporized when it touched ground, so there was a curious smell of boiling on the block. Strangely, dimly, I recall the hiss of firecrackers. A sulfurous smoke, the skittish demeanor of light- even the street seemed nervous in spirit, its San Francisco leaves quivering, smelling of flame. Our progress had telltale smoke in its wake, the omen of New Year’s cheer.”
However many holes are in her recollection, there are such gorgeous, wonderful details in her story and a beautiful flow. Trapped between honoring her loving, but shady parents and remaining faithful to the hearty rebels, she wavers but she comes to a strong conclusion when she confronts Jed about his and her families’ riches: “We’ll always have our wealth, we will always have our names. There is something suspicious, dishonest, in playacting revolt. We’re cockroaches. We’ll outlast even our crimes.” For me, it is the most truthful thing I ever heard Sol say. She knows her place but strives to do more with unseen consequences.
The first two thirds were a little slow going, but the final third racks up the speed and delivers a tight finale. I had a sick pit of anticipation and dread in my stomach, on the lookout for Sol’s present source of pain and sadly I wasn’t disappointed. Despite Sol’s foolishness, you want the best for her and to be happy, in spite of her current heart crushing state. Still, it is a remarkable book that rewards close reading, with such fantastic wordplay, patterns, and literary devices. I haven’t wanted to discuss a book with someone in so long, but I’m so glad I finally found it in Gun Dealers’ Daughters. While Sol’s remorse might burrow deep into my mind, I think it’s a fair trade for such a sad but in a way lovely, read.
Eileen Ramos is a Filipina-American writer with a deep, abiding love for words. This passion drives her to read, create, and absorb all she can. Let’s hope it ends well. Read more by Eileen on her blog.