Summary and book reviews of America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

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
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

Book Summary

With exuberance, grit, and sly tenderness, here is a family saga; an origin story; a romance; a narrative of two nations and the people who leave one home to grasp at another.

How many lives fit in a lifetime?

When Hero De Vera arrives in America - haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents - she's already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn't ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter - the first American-born daughter in the family - can't resist asking Hero about her damaged hands.

An increasingly relevant story told with startling lucidity, humor, and an uncanny ear for the intimacies and shorthand of family ritual, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.

Excerpt
America Is Not the Heart

After the cake, after the singing, after the offering of presents that would only be opened at home, they kept with tradition for the first dance: Roni and Pol took the floor. The live band was made up of four Filipino men, bakla, all dressed in barong tagalogs. They were jokingly calling themselves Mabuhok Singers. The song they started playing was one Hero recognized from some of the karaoke nights at the restaurant, Jose Mari Chan's Beautiful Girl.

Coooooorrrny, Rosalyn said, seated across from Hero at a table near the back, but the smile on her face was real.

It'd been so long since her seventh birthday; Hero couldn't remember if she, like Roni, had danced with her father alone on some dance floor, or one of the inner courtyards of the De Vera house, to some terrible love song, popular at the time, forgettable forever if not for having been chosen for this moment. Pol had one hand on Roni's shoulder, one hand tucking stray hairs ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Attempting to distill Elaine Castillo's debut novel America is Not the Heart into a neat synopsis is a little like trying to explain the plots of several books all at the same time. Yes, this is first and foremost a tale of new beginnings in a foreign land. But it is also a document of a nation's political upheaval that spans several decades. America is Not the Heart is a bisexual romance, a story of survival, a celebration of Filipino culture, and more besides. Thankfully Castillo has expertly managed to tie these disparate threads into a cohesive, compelling whole anchored by protagonist Geronima de Vera, a twenty-something-year-old woman escaping a traumatic adolescence in the Philippines.   (Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

Full Review (707 words).

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Media Reviews

The Millions
As we enter year two of the Donald Trump presidency, Castillo's first novel challenges readers to look beyond the headlines to grasp the human dimension of America's lure to immigrants in this big-hearted family saga.

The Rumpus
Castillo delivers a powerful, increasingly relevant novel about the promise of the American dream and the unshakable power of the past.

Southern Living
An impossible-to-put-down, multi-generational family epic.

Bitch Media
In this unforgettable novel, Castillo offers an important pushback on the idea of the American Dream and questions who gets access to it.

Booklist
[A] raw and lyrical debut novel ... Castillo's direct and urgent voice propels the sprawling epic with impressive skill. This unforgettable family saga is not to be missed.

Library Journal
Castillo's debut novel is particularly relevant in today's toxic political climate. A rich, challenging read.

Kirkus Reviews
Beautifully written, emotionally complex, and deeply moving, Castillo's novel reminds us both that stories may be all we have to save us and also that this may never be enough.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Castillo's debut, a contemporary saga of an extended Filipino family, is a wonderful, nonpareil novel ... a remarkable feat ... a brilliant and intensely moving immigrant tale.

Author Blurb Jade Chang
The creative accomplishments of this story are incredible: this unexpected family, this history, this embrace of the sacred and the profane, this easy humor, this deeply felt human-ness, this messy, perfect love story. Elaine Castillo is a masterful, heartfelt writer.

Author Blurb NoViolet Bulawayo
Elaine Castillo's entrancing and magnificent debut is set to be a standout work of literature. Don't say you were not told. What a dazzling book!

Author Blurb Samantha Irby
This glorious novel is a sharp, bracing, often hilarious family epic about a young woman tormented by the relentless ghosts of her past while in search of an American Dream that is not always available to those who seek it.

Author Blurb John Freeman
With the sheer propulsive power of her voice, Elaine Castillo blasts readers into her story.

Reader Reviews

lani

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Brief History of The New People's Army

A large part of protagonist Geronima de Vera's backstory in Elaine Castillo's novel, America is Not the Heart, is entwined with the communist rebellion group, The New People's Army, a real-life collective that continues to forcefully oppose elected Philippine governments. The New People's Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which was founded in 1968 by student activist Jose Maria Sison. The two entities are often referred to under the collective acronym CPP-NPA since from the very start they worked closely together. The group's primary objectives are to establish a new political state led by the working class as well as to expel U.S. influence from the Philippines.

The current flag of the NPA As a rebellious force, ...

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