America Is Not the Heart

America Is Not the Heart

by Elaine Castillo


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Named one of the best books of 2018 by NPR, Real Simple, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Public Library 

"A saga rich with origin myths, national and personal . . . Castillo is part of a younger generation of American writers instilling literature with a layered sense of identity." —Vogue

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735222427
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 72,393
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Elaine Castillo was born in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. America Is Not the Heart is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Excerpted from "America Is Not the Heart"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Elaine Castillo.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide

1. The epigraph of the book is the quote from Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: “I knew I could trust a gambler because I had been one of them.” Why do you think the author chose this particular quote as the epigraph?

2. Though most of the novel is narrated in third person, it begins in the second person “you” perspective. Discuss why the novel begins this way.

3. How does the novel’s prologue shape your reading of the rest of the novel?

4. The author incorporates dialogue in Tagalog, Ilocano, and Pangasinan throughout the novel, often without translation. What effect does this have? Why do you think the author chooses not to translate some of this dialogue?

5. On pages 363–64, Adela gently chastises Hero for not fully understanding what it means to heal. She asks Hero to think about whether Roni is “sira”—broken, damaged. What is Adela trying to tell Hero? What does it mean to be healed?

6. In the last scene of the novel, Paz, Pol, Hero, and Roni are all together, eating pancit. Discuss the role of food in the book.

7. Language has historically been a tool of colonization. Refusing to follow the “correct” usage of a colonizer’s language can, in many ways, be interpreted as a form of resistance. How does the author challenge or subvert the traditional rules of the English language in the novel?

8. In an interview, the author has said: “There are two stories you need to know about your characters: the one they tell themselves, and the one they actually inhabit.” What stories do you think Paz, Hero, Rosalyn, and the other characters in this novel tell about themselves? What stories do they actually inhabit? Is there a difference?

9. Would you consider this a political novel? Discuss why or why not.

10. The title of this book is inspired by Carlos Bulosan’s semi-autobiographical novel America Is in the Heart. Why do you think the author named her book America Is Not the Heart? How does this title fit the novel as a whole?

11. What do you think America means to the different characters in the novel—to Hero, Paz, Rosalyn, Roni, Pol?

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America Is Not the Heart 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Full of this generation's myopic obsession with identity and self-righteous anger at the world.
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
Elaine Castillo has written a sprawling contemporary saga about family, love, friendship, culture, sex, and food—the very things that make life fun and interesting. Perhaps most impressively, she’s written this novel about a strong community of Filipino-Americans in the Bay Area, shedding light on the complexity and diversity within Pinoy culture. The novel features a cast of interesting and multi-dimensional characters; the protagonist is Hero (short for Geronima), a 30something undocumented immigrant from the Philippines who flees her unsupportive parents after being released from government captivity due to her involvement with the New People’s Army, a revolutionary group. Hobbled by fractured thumbs—a lasting reminder of her torture while in captivity—Hero arrives in Milpitas to live with her uncle (a former M.D. who also fled the Phillipines), his wife, and their 8-year-old daughter, Roni. Feeling like an outsider, Hero finds acceptance with a group of young Filipinos, especially Rosalyn, a boisterous and energetic woman in her 20s who develops a crush on Hero. The narrative focuses on the growing relationship between Hero and Rosalyn—along with the ensuing complications it causes—as well as the problems caused by socioeconomic difficulties and fears of deportation. Castillo balances these very real and urgent issues with strong doses of familial love, celebrations of food and friendship, and the impenetrable bonds the characters form. The lack of quotation marks indicating dialogue can be a bit disorienting at first, and the frequent use of Tagalog and Ilocano might challenge some readers, but these quirks can be easily overcome with the use of online translations, and I found myself enjoying the incidental education in Filipino language and culture (especially as a resident of San Francisco). An enjoyable and unexpectedly engaging read, America Is Not The Heart will entertain and educate you.
Milkz More than 1 year ago
I can only describe this as a beautiful ode to Filipinos everywhere. This book is outside my genre (fantasy), but it felt like a fantasy while reading because I was in such disbelief over seeing "Filipino" and "tsinelas" and other Filipino dishes besides adobo in a book that I purchased at an actual bookstore. Paz' prologue is a perfect introduction into the Filipino life and mindset. From the opening lines we see how light skin is more valued than dark skin and how blood is important despite not fully knowing each member of your family. We are introduced to a culture of many different dialects that are often times mixed together with English when spoken. We see how becoming a nurse helps to bring people over to the states, and we see how some Filipinos become overqualified for their work positions in America because their Philippine credentials don't carry over. From the introduction we see the pride in their identity that Filipinos are known for, and we see how love isn't always about emotions and grand gestures. Sometimes it's about giving your loved ones opportunities to survive in the society they are a part of. Despite the lengthy introduction that left me wanting to know how Paz fares in America , the rest of the story is actually told through the eyes of her husband's niece, Geronimo de Vera or "Hero" for short. In the Philippines, Hero was a doctor who joined the New People's Army in rebellion against the Marcos regime. At one point her unit was captured, but she was let go once it was revealed that her family was related to Marcos. Because of conflicting political views, Hero was exiled from her family and was sent to live with her uncle in the States. I very much appreciate how the author doesn't showcase the "ideal" Filipino and instead illustrates characters who do not fit the usual Filipino mold. Paz and her husband, Pol, were not exactly in love when they decided to get married. They are also poor because only one of them brings in any income due to Pol's doctor credentials not crossing over to the States. The other main woman are also not the "ideal" exotic, demure, and light-skinned woman that society seems to find attractive. Hero has a strong accent, casually talks about sex, is bisexual, and has disabled hands. Rosalyn is an outspoken hair stylist discovering and exploring her sexuality. Hero's niece Roni, is a rebellious child with eczema. They don't fit Filipino ideals, but they are also immigrants who don't fit the American ideal. Throughout the story, we sense that everyone is trying to figure out where they belong. These characters also don't go on an epic adventure. They showcase the lives of many people who lived in Milpitas during the 90's, that is, the lives of people who live in a suburban area where the minority is the majority and English isn't the prevalent language. It's also interesting to note the history between the U.S. and the Philippines interwoven in America is Not the Heart because rather than mentioning how the U.S. helped the Philippines, it highlights the racism Americans had towards Filipinos. Many times the U.S. is known as the Philippines' "big brother", but this book points out how Filipinos were once, and sometimes still, thought of as dirty and prone to sickness. I wonder if Castillo chose to write these parts of our history to point out that though Asians are known as the "model minority," we are not always respected.