Book Review: Bibliolepsy by Gina Apostol

Biblolepsy – Gina Apostol (Soho Press, 2022)

I received an Advance Uncopyedited Edition of this book. All opinions are my own.

Primi Peregrino is a younger sister, daughter of two eccentric parents who disappear from a boat one day. She is growing up in the Philippines in a time of great uncertainty and instability, under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. As Primi navigates adolescence and early adulthood, surrounded by official deceits, uncertainty about who her parents truly were, and the rise of her older sister as a sort of guru, she searches for both her identity and the fulfilment of her desires through books. This love for books also leads her into a series of tempestuous relationships with a variety of writers and poets. In Manila in the 1980s, art and politics are tangled up together until Primi’s life and the history of the Philippines hits a climax with the EDSA Revolution of 1986.

Bibliolepsy was first published in 1997; this new edition makes the book available to a North American audience for the first time. While it might seem late to publicize a book about a revolution that occurred more than 30 years ago, I think this speaks to two things: 1) A growing interest in Western readers to read books from around the world and 2) the unfortunate relevance of this story to current politics in the Philippines.

While there is a lot here about words and language that will appeal to many book lovers fascinated by words, this is also a story that requires some knowledge of history and politics in the Philippines. I’ll admit that I have only a bare minimum of this knowledge and I imagine greater knowledge would have added quite a bit to my reading. My connection to the Philippines is that my parents lived there for two years in the early 1980s. (My older brother was actually born in Manila.) Their experience living in Marcos’ time seems to have left an impression as the page for 4 Month Milestones in my baby book (February 1986) makes mention of Marcos’ flee from the Philippines. I still think of Imelda Marcos whenever I see a lot of shoes!

This won’t be a book for everyone but if you’re interested in learning more about the Philippines, either historically or today, or have any kind of personal connection, I think the re-release of Apostol’s debut book might be for you.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Bibliolepsy by Gina Apostol”

  1. I know pretty much nothing about the Philippines other than Duterte was in the spotlight for human rights violations — basically, murdering drug dealers. I also know that right now he’s trying to have unvaccinated people throw in prison.

    1. I don’t know a lot either. The current guy seems extreme and I know there are problems but not the details of what those are. It’s a beautiful country and surprisingly diverse in culture and language. Between Spain, Japan, and the US it’s spent a lot of it’s history being occupied so it’s not surprising that there is still quite a bit of turmoil.

  2. Wow interesting. I do not know too much about the Philippines, shamefully. I’ll have to try to learn more. Seems like an interesting book.

    1. I don’t know much either, just what I’ve absorbed from my parents and from visiting. Some background knowledge is definitely helpful for this book but more than I have probably would have been even better.

  3. You seem like such a well-traveled person with lots of history in different parts of the world, which I am always in awe of. It no doubt leads to your curiosity about other places and the books you read! The Philippines is such a big gap in my knowledge, I feel like I know so little about it, so searching about books that are set there would be a good mini-goal for me!

    1. Honestly, a lot of my overseas experience is thanks to my parents so I can’t take credit for it! This book is definitely written for an audience already familiar with the Philippines and it’s history and I’m sure I would have gotten more out of it if I knew more about the politics. But books are such an awesome way to learn about those histories. Now I’m curious about what kind of other novels have been written about this time period in the Philippines.

  4. I know almost nothing about the Philippines, but this premise sounds really interesting. When it’s done well, I really enjoy books that tangle up a person’s individual growth with big historical events, and it sounds like Apostol does a good job of it.

  5. Sounds interesting but my knowledge of the Philippines is vague to the point almost of non-existence! Imelda’s shoes and Duterte murdering drug dealers is about as in depth as I get, so sadly maybe this one wouldn’t be for me.

    1. This isn’t the place to start for learning more but if you ever do a Reading the Philippines challenge or something, you could search this out!

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