Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
Interpreting the society and history of a nation under dictatorship, Ninotchka Rosca centers her novel on an assassination attempt on a dictator called the Commander. This character is generally understood to represent Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for twenty years. Rosca offers intersecting stories of indigenous residents; Spanish, other European, and US colonists and settlers; and the political movements that generated multi-faceted efforts to overthrow the Commander. The primary theme is the harmful legacy of imperialism, going back to the Spanish sixteenth-century arrival but including the twentieth-century US colonization. One aspect of this theme is that there is no benign aspect of colonial control, linked to the theme that the rise of authoritarian rule is a direct outgrowth, not an accidental byproduct, of colonial systems. The author’s efforts to explain, but not to justify, why the revolutionaries decide to kill the Commander fit with the related theme that opposition to tyranny often begets an equally violent equally undesirable reaction.
Three characters closely connect to these themes. They variously participate in the assassination attempt, which would be achieved by detonating a bomb during a festival. As this celebration commemorates the initial resistance of the native islanders to the Spanish efforts to take over in the sixteenth century, the revolutionaries see it as an appropriate symbolic setting for a contemporary act of rebellion. Anna Villaverde has survived the government’s detention of political opponents; her participation is partly related to one of her torturers’ involvement in the festival. Manolo Montreal, a radical and her former lover, is believed dead, but he reappears to figure decisively in the bombing plot. Because Manolo has betrayed the cause, Anna kills him in an effort to carry out their plot. The third character also plays an ambivalent role. Adrian, an upper-class Filipino whose desire for democracy has been radicalized, also shows the paradoxes of political involvement. Captured and drugged by government forces, he unwillingly reveals information about the plot, which result in injuries to him and many innocent people. With the plot and the characters, Rosca explores colonialism’s legacy as it undermines the success of future democratic governance.