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What readers think of America Is Not the Heart, plus links to write your own review.

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America Is Not the Heart

by Elaine Castillo

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo X
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 416 pages

    Apr 2019, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

An Imaginative, Emotionally Searing Story, but It's Difficult to Read and Boring in Parts
This is a difficult book to read on several levels. Not only is the subject matter disturbing in the important story it has to tell, but also the many (many!) words and phrases written in Tagalog, Ilocano, and Pangasinan with no translation can just make it confounding to understand.

Written by Elaine Castillo, this is the story of Hero De Vera, a 34-year-old woman who illegally immigrates to the United States from the Philippines. We very slowly learn the details of Hero's life, and those details are horrific in places. Born to a wealthy and politically influential family, she studied to become a physician. Along the way she joined the New People's Army, an armed group of the Communist Party, until she was captured and tortured. Now she is starting a new life in San Francisco, living with her aunt, uncle, and young cousin, Roni, for whom she serves as caregiver. Hero eventually makes friends and begins a real life of her own, but the torture that was done to her hands—and soul—
will forever remind her and others that she has a past.

Castillo takes a bit of a literary leap in the writing style. When the book is about Hero, it's in the third person. When the book is about another character, it's in the second person. It begins this way, and I found it quite disconcerting until I got accustomed to the awkward style.

That said, the story is quite imaginative and an important one that should be told about the immigrant experience. While it is emotionally searing in parts, at other times it's hard to stay interested because the story is so unnecessarily drawn out.

Bonus: The novel is packed with Filipino myths, superstitions, legends, stories, and food. Lots and lots of food. It's a fascinating journey through a country's culture.
Power Reviewer

Filipino immigrant experience
For fans of third world literature, you might want to dive into this novel for there seems to be a void of Filipino novels. It opened up a world that I was not familiar with as it broached the immigrant experience, the horrors of insurgencies and conflict, familial ties, and also lesbian relationships. This is a multigenerational saga filled with many characters but chiefly Paz, the nurse who has settled in the Bay area with her husband, Pol,who formerly a surgeon but now acted as a security guard in this new environment. Pol's niece, Hero, who was studying to be a doctor in the Philippines, got caught up in the revolutionary fervor, was disowned by her parents and then suffered costly injuries at the hands of the enemies. She was offered sanctuary at Pol and Paz's home with no questions asked. The rest of the book focuses on the interfamilial relationships, the secrecies, the sacrifices made in the name of family and Hero's blossoming relationship with Roslyn. The fierce but tender relationship with Roslyn and Hero created a beautiful visual scene of two women finally allowing themselves to be true to their own selves .Admittedly, I am conflicted about the book. I kept wanting to read it and figure out how this family would survive but I found myself irked at the Tagalog and Philippine words and sentences used heavily throughout the novel that were presented without explanation. The author might have thought this made it more authentic but for the average reader it was only frustrating and distracting.
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