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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330

State of War by Ninotchka Rosca is a novel about the attempted assassination of "The Commander"—Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine dictator—during a celebration in the Philippines.

The three main characters—Eliza Hansen, Adrian Banyaga, and Anna Villaverde—travel to the island of K in the Philippines to participate in the Ati-Atihan festival, a...

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State of War by Ninotchka Rosca is a novel about the attempted assassination of "The Commander"—Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine dictator—during a celebration in the Philippines.

The three main characters—Eliza Hansen, Adrian Banyaga, and Anna Villaverde—travel to the island of K in the Philippines to participate in the Ati-Atihan festival, a celebration commemorating the battle between the native islanders and Spanish conquerors and the islanders' eventual freedom from colonial rule. In spite of the nation's freedom, however, Filipinos are subservient to the Commander, and the three young characters represent the Filipinos who are vying for freedom during this period of political instability.

During the festive celebration, they plan to detonate a bomb that will kill the Commander while fireworks are going off. Anna, a young woman who was once tortured by the military after the Commander took over, plants the bomb but learns that the area is being secured by the military, including the man who originally tortured her. Adrian protects her from exposure, but he is captured and drugged into revealing their location and plan. He flees to warn Anna and protect her, but as the bomb detonates early, he is wounded and left crippled by the blast.

The radical leader Manolo Montreal, who led the opposition against the Commander and was presumed dead, had in reality turned against his old party and has been aiding the Commander's forces. Because Anna was originally tortured for her ties to him, she kills Montreal in anger before he can betray the group to the military. In the end, a battle ensues between the military and the group of rebels, which results in bloodshed and death, and the Commander comes out victorious. In spite of the defeat and the constant state of war in the country, there is hope for freedom and peaceful future in the form of Anna and Adrian's son, who will be a reminder of the violence and a historian who teaches the people about democracy.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

State of War’s dominant story line portrays a failed attempt by young radicals to assassinate Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (referred to only as The Commander). The book’s larger concern is with the effect of centuries of colonialism on the Filipino people’s search for national identity. Portions of the novel try to reconstruct the ancestry of the principal characters during centuries of Spanish rule and fifty years of American occupation. Even after independence is achieved in 1946, freedom still is withheld from the people by troops serving the Commander. “Internal colonialism,” controlled by the Filipinos’ own countryman, merely replaces the tyranny that formerly came from outside. Ninotchka Rosca describes a nation forever being betrayed and, therefore, forever in the process of only beginning to find itself.

The seriousness of the assassination attempt is masked by the resplendent color and the joyful sounds of the festival that surround the attempt. Annually, in the Ati-Atihan celebration, Filipinos celebrate the clash between the Spanish and the native islanders. Anna Villaverde, who during martial law once was detained by military authorities because of her closeness to Manolo Montreal, a radical oppositionist who is assumed dead, becomes aware that Colonel Urbano Amor, her original torturer, is securing the area for the Commander’s visit. Anna is protected from exposure by Adrian, a young member of the elite class. Then he is captured, and under the influence of drugs he is forced to reveal parts of the plot. Trying to compensate for this betrayal by warning Anna, he becomes crippled when the bomb intended for the Commander explodes prematurely. As for Manolo Montreal, he is not dead after all but has joined forces with his previous captors. He is prepared to betray the plans of the young conspirators, but Anna manages to kill him. What begins as a festival of song and dance ends in a bloody melee with the Commander still alive and in charge.

The only hope for social change, the novel suggests, lies in Anna and Adrian’s son, who will have to become a historian of the people and storyteller of collective memories and democratic ideals. He will be expected to serve as a reminder of the recurring frustration of Filipino hopes for self-definition during centuries of foreign rule. The novel’s storyline is filled with intrigue from all sides, continuously defeating the examples of reform and of resistance that, historically, only relatively few rebellious nationalists have courageously provided. A persistent “state of war,” Rosca implies, has long existed, and true independence has yet to be achieved. Anna’s dream of a different future among peasants, who want only a right to the land that they till, is a declaration of faith rather than of hope. Romantic as Anna’s expectations of democracy might seem to be under the circumstances, the only alternative is to surrender hope for a free society. It is not in her nature to give up the beliefs that make her life worth living; and in the author, she has found an ally.

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