Cover Image: America Is Not the Heart

America Is Not the Heart

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Member Reviews

Hero is such a well constructed character, the unraveling of her story of trauma and her tumultuous history was deftly written. However, I felt that the overall pacing of the surrounding narrative often held this back, with the flow of events often slowing and lacking direction to the point where Hero’s “flashbacks” stood out immeasurably, Her relationship with Rosalyn was also extremely well written!

Other highlights for me were the way food and the relationships built around that were written. I was a little disappointed overall primarily because the pacing did have me as invested in the narrative as I hoped to be, but loved the glimpse into the experience Hero’s character speaks to and the historic significance of the timing in which this story was set. I’d definitely read more by Castillo.
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A story of the immigrant experience in America. Paz is a nurse in the Philippines who moves to the U.S. with her husband. Together they raise a daughter and just as I was enjoying the narrative about Paz adjusting to life in the U.S., the story shifts to focus on Hero de Vera, Paz’s husband’s niece. Despite Hero coming from a well-off family, she has suffered at the hands of the government for her political dissent. One of my favorite parts in the story was when Hero is in the States and hangs out at a local restaurant owned by other immigrants. I loved hearing about how they had found a way to make the States their home. What I didn’t like were the shift in events from past to present and while I normally do enjoy that, this only made the story feel like it wasn’t moving forward and all of a sudden Paz’s story seems to get lost. The story felt very long and  I simply lost interest and didn’t finish this one.
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The modern-day Filipino-American experience is intimately explored in Elaine Castillo’s debut novel America Is Not the Heart. The novel clearly pays homage to Carlos Bulosan’s 1946 semi-autobiographical novel America Is In the Heart while charting the experiences of Filipinos living in 1990s California. Where Bulosan immersed us in the experiences of immigrant Filipinos, struggling to survive as migrant farmworkers, Castillo introduces us to a new, younger generation of Filipinos—nurses, security guards, restaurant workers—who had either immigrated to America at a young age or were born in America.

America Is Not the Heart centers itself around the experiences of Geronima de Vera. Geronima is referred to by two different names, depending on where she is living. When in the Philippines, Geronima is known as “Nimang,” the daughter of a wealthy, pedigreed family. When living in Milpitas, a suburb of San Francisco, Geronima is known as “Hero,” the undocumented immigrant Filipino. When Geronima arrives in Milpitas, she is a damaged woman. Her life, to this point, has been subjected to a series of jarring, and, often times, violent transformations:  from being born into a Philippine family of privilege, to dropping out of medical school to serve as a cadre doctor with the New People’s Army (a communist insurgency group in the Philippines), to being captured and tortured by the military, to being an undocumented immigrant working in a restaurant in the United States.

The parts of America Is Not the Heart which are set in the Philippines provide readers an intimate glimpse at the Philippine’s rich history and vibrant culture. Castillo juxtaposes the idyllic provinces and their serene beauty with the congested streets of urban centers. Geronima is emblematic of the paradox of a life lived in the Philippines, being a member of the privileged class yet fighting to destroy it, being related to Ferdinand Marcos yet becoming a tortured victim of his government, being the daughter of a locally elected mayor yet finding herself with nowhere to go but America. Castillo allows readers to delve into the complex family dynamics of Philippine society which in turn makes it easier to relate with the characters and the story.

When the focus of America Is Not the Heart shifts to the tight-knit Filipino-American community in Milpitas, California, Castillo seizes the chance to examine the intricacies of a life spent in this cross section of Philippine/American culture. She achieves this, in part, through the use of three major dialects spoken in the Philippines—Ilocano, Pangasinense, and Tagalog. This not only provides America Is Not the Heart with an authentic and original feel, but it allows readers to see what it is like to belong to an immigrant community. This is the idea—that home is not a place, but rather the people one surrounds oneself with—that is the essence of what America Is Not the Heart is about.

Castillo’s writing style is straightforward with a tender heartbeat that never loses its pace. Throughout the story, Castillo is always finding a way to reminds us that we are more than where we came from. America Is Not the Heart is beautifully written and is deeply moving. It will make anyone who reads it feel at home.
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I’ve had my eye on this book ever since I saw a pre-release article on it earlier this year. AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART is a multi-generational novel of Filipina women, as much about family as identity. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
AMERICA is Elaine Castillo’s debut novel, and one of The Millions most anticipated novels of 2018. It is especially dear to me because my boyfriend is Filipino, and the first in his family to be born in the United States. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This book is of epic proportions, both a necessary and timely read in this age of immigration discussion. Not only that, it brings a little-discussed culture to the forefront. 
THANK YOU @_elainecastillo for writing this book 🙏🏽
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Excellent. Great debut novel. It resonated with me in so many ways because it shows profound insights about the immigrant life in the U.S.  A pleasure to read. The details and characters are unforgettable. Looking forward to reading more work from Elaine Castillo. I hope it is included in High School and College-level courses about the immigrant experience. Highly recommended.
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Definitely an interesting read, but one that i had high expectations for after seeing so many glowing reviews. I definitely enjoyed it, though not as much as some other reviewers.
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Wasn't a fan of this book. Perhaps other people will like it? Felt lacking a plot really. Some books can get away with that, but this one seemed to not have a direction.

The set-up had so much going for it, but the delivery and focus was lost on something else entirely.

The book started out strong, with a different main character, Paz. That storyline I wanted to stay with, instead nearly the rest of the book (about 90%) was following the story of her husband's neice, Hero, who came to live with the family in Milpitas. Felt like bait-and-switch. Even hearing about Paz's sister with her two boys, barely mentioned in the rest of the book but prominent in the beginning. Hero's story could have been more interesting, but it was meandering too far into this other area that wasn't very interesting, her sex life. Hero's story was the focus, and she did grow throughout, yet...just wasn't it. 

Speaking of the beginning it was told in this not often found point of view in second person. This is Paz though. Then mid-way it again switches to second person, but in another character. Odd. I don't think it helped the book.
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tl;dr Review:

A beautifully written story capturing the migrant experience and immigration in America across three generations.

Full Review:

I will be honest and say this book took me a bit to get into. America Is Not the Heart: A Novel by Elaine Castillo starts with one story and then goes in a few different directions. There is some jumping around, which makes sense in the context of the tale, but it took me some time to fully grasp and enjoy it.

The explanation may not make much sense as you read it right now, but it will once you read the book. As a daughter of a Jamaican mother, I always love books that detail the experiences of others as they make their way in this country. I can't say this is my absolute favorite book on the topic, but the writing and story are well done.

The publisher's description gives some hint that it will be a rollercoaster of a tale.

"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. 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."

There is something to be said about how it brilliantly showcases what it's like growing up the product of a culture and a country, yet without feeling like you fit in anywhere. You're not white enough to be white, not fully (here, Filipino, but fill in the blank for anyone who has experienced it) to be considered a native of the country since you were born in America. Yet you grew up with the traditions and the stories and the food and the culture. Maybe this review makes sense to some, maybe it doesn't. But then again, I think that perfectly sums up this book. It will either hit you in the gut with its precise descriptions or you'll feel removed from the experience.

Overall, I give it 3 thumbs up.
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This family saga follows several Filipino immigrants as they come to terms with their past political turmoil in the Philippines and their new lives in America.
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.

As a daughter of a well-to-do family, Geronima grew up sheltered from the oppressive realities of martial law that terrorized thousands of Filipinos in the 1970s and 80s. During these years, communist activists gained increased popularity among the Filipino peasantry. Fearing he would be overthrown, the then elected president, Ferdinand Marcos, established an authoritarian regime to maintain full control of government and suppress the democratic process. The president also utilized the military to silence protesters and stifle any opposition to his rule.

Upon reaching university, Geronima comes to realize that members of her own family, including her parents, are ardent Marcos supporters her new classmates and their families have suffered under. Unable to reconcile with this truth, Geronima quits medical school to join the New People's Army (see 'Beyond the Book'), a communist rebellion that attempted to bring down Marcos' regime and set up a new political state led by the working class.

From here on, Geronima endures a decade of unthinkable hardships and by the time she surfaces back in her hometown, both physically and emotionally broken, her parents effectively disown this daughter who fought so hard to bring their politics to an end.

Having burned all bridges in the Philippines, Geronima is left with one option: to start anew with family ties in America. Geronima is invited to live with her uncle Pol and her aunt Paz in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends her days babysitting young daughter Roni, who nicknames her new guardian, Hero. As she acquaints herself with her new home, Hero forms friendships among the thriving Filipino diaspora, chiefly with Rosalyn, a headstrong, no-nonsense makeup artist. Even though Hero tries to bury her past, she soon faces a harsh wake-up call. While she may be thousands of miles away from home, her trauma continues to bubble just under the surface, threatening to isolate her from any meaningful relationships.

The main narrative thrust of the novel traces Hero's day-to-day life in America. By taking care of her cousin Roni, she comes into contact with other Filipinos, from neighborhood witch doctors to turo-turo (or steam-table) restaurateurs, who each form yet another tiny piece in the puzzle of what it means to be Filipino in America. The full horrific details of Hero's backstory are teased out piecemeal over the course of the novel, as the heroine herself becomes more and more comfortable with sharing her story. Some readers may find the continuous back and forth between past and present somewhat tiresome, especially as these sections can often read like very different books. Yet these stylistic dichotomies only highlight how present-day Hero is only a shell of the person she was in her radicalized youth.

America Is Not the Heart also details Pol and Paz's past, their unlikely romance, and the reasons they emigrated. And through cousin Roni, Castillo explores how a young naturalized American forms an identity informed by both U.S. culture and Filipino heritage. These three generations of Filipinos living under one roof – middle-aged Pol and Paz, Hero in her twenties, and eight-year-old Roni – provide a holistic insight into the Filipino experience in America.

In order to draw the reader further into the spirit of its characters, Castillo infuses the dialog with un-translated fragments of various Filipino dialects such as Tagalog, Ilocano and Pangasinan, which are for the most part easily understood in context of the conversations. By the end of this sprawling, inclusive novel, readers will truly feel they have been offered a rare glimpse into a people, history and culture too often marginalized.
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I loved the writing. I wish that the character in the prologue played more of a part in the actual story. 
Free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of the book. A beautiful book about the migrant experience spanning three generations of Filipina women. It’s wonderful to read a book featuring people of color and speaking to minority experiences.
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America is Not the Heart is primarily the story of the de Vera family: Paz, Pol, Roni, and Hero. They are a family of illegal Filipino immigrants struggling to get by in America. But it's also so much more. It's a catalog of human suffering and longing. It feels so much. We become so immersed in the lives of all of the characters. 

I tend to read books in a matter of days. Very rarely I will take a week to read a book. This book took me several weeks, and I don't know how to explain it. It is not because I disliked it. It just could not be rushed.
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As editor of BookBrowse, I requested this title to assess for review on BookBrowse. A review is posted at and the publicist has been emailed with info about it.
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Thank you for a copy of this book - I am currently reading it, but I have loved the first half so far. This title has already been published.
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Elaine Castillo is a bright new voice in the literary world. While there have been several books out recently exploring the experience of immigrants in America, this book is not one to miss. America Is Not the Heart tells the story of Hero, as well as a strong supporting cast of characters. And, what a perfect name for our protagonist. 

Hero was a doctor in the Philippines, but injuries received during time spent in captivity during a politically turbulent time derailed her career and sent her to the US. 

For many readers (myself included), this book will likely serve as both a moving narrative and an introduction to Filipino history. This is a beautifully written novel that explores the meaning of home and family and love. It's definitely one to read. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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About 20 pages in I realized that I know barely anything about the Philippines apart from some random dishes, and some political crises over the years!! I worked for a translation company for years and assumed that Tagalog was the main language and never looked further than that. I feel pretty ashamed about it to be honest - but I’ve really enjoyed reading America is Not the Heart and researching so much about the Philippines at the same time. One thing that I love about reading eBooks is that you can easily switch to google and research things while you are reading. I know some people find that annoying but I actually enjoy it.

Ahhhh this book is beautifully written. The narrative is sprinkled with words in Tagalog, Ilocano, and Panganisan, but it doesn’t distract from the story, on the contrary it enriches it, plunges you into Filipino life, in the Philippines and in the US. I did end up googling quite a few words, mainly food because I love to envision what certain dishes look like in my mind, but it didn’t bother me at all. The languages flows beautifully, it creates a rich, vibrant environment, and Elaine Castillo has a great knack for character development.

America is Not the Heart is the story of immigration, of hardship, of relearning trust, of family, and ultimately of love. Hero arrives in the US to live with her uncle and auntie, bringing along a ton of baggage from her childhood, her life in the New People’s Army, and then in prison. We discover Hero’s story as the narrative unfolds.

One thing that surprised me a little, was that the first few chapters introduce us to Paz, and then BAM the story turns to Hero’s. I felt slightly miffed, I was beginning to develop Paz in my mind and then she was relegated to the background. It threw me off and I found it a little harder to get back into the narrative of Hero’s story. If you also find that this throws you off, don’t put the book down, because Hero is actually amazing and her story is so poignant and beautifully written.

Another thing: there are so many names in the book, and each name has another name, usually a diminutive of the original name (which I assume is pretty common in Filipino families). I found that I couldn’t read this novel with any distractions at first (children, background TV or music noise), or I would just get confused. But it got easier after a while. Just don’t give up, understanding all of the background is important and makes sense as the story unfolds.

There is a LOT of history of the Philippines nestled in the story, while reading it I really started to wonder how long it took the author to write this book. There are so many characters, so much research, so many layers... It’s an amazing book and an amazing feat. Also a million thumbs up for the developing a realistic love story between two women, and exploring the themes of acceptance in tight-knitted traditional family settings.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the copy, America is Not the Heart is just sublime AND such an amazing first novel for Elaine Castillo!!
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This was an intense book -- a saga about a Filipinos who emigrate to the U.S., in the hopes of a better life -- some to escape political oppression, many leaving professional careers to work as domestics, restaurant workers, security guards. The novel follows how they assimilate, while trying to protect and preserve their culture and traditions. There is a lot here to like, but the book is WAY TOO LONG and filled with language and cultural references that will provide a rich reading experience for those with deep personal  knowledge or interest in Filipino history and culture, but became difficult to follow and sometimes confusing. #AmericaIsNotTheHeart #NetGalley
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Fabulous.  In a word marvelous, and I’m telling everyone.....bravo! I can’t wait for the next one.  One powerful new voice on the literary scene
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Both boldly assertive and overwhelming, this novel charms and challenges simultaneously. Its second person opening delivers a thrilling sense of place, culture and character. But once the book settles, into a different person (in two senses) it seems less gripping, the family history and surrounding characters more dense. Nevertheless, this is a notable debut, that could have worked better with a firmer editorial hand.
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I wanted to like this but the writing seemed clunky. I couldn't get into the story because of it, which was a shame because I liked the plot description.
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