cover image America Is Not the Heart

America Is Not the Heart

Elaine Castillo. Viking, $27 (480p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2241-0

Castillo’s debut, a contemporary saga of an extended Filipino family, is a wonderful, nonpareil novel. It opens with Paz, a long-suffering nurse from Vigan who, having immigrated to Milpitas, Calif., shoulders much of the responsibility for her entire family. Her husband, Pol, a member of the De Vera family in the Philippines and once a successful surgeon, had to flee due to political turmoil and take a job as a security guard in the U.S. When their niece Hero arrives, they take her in, and she leads the rest of the story. Hero is burdened with a disturbing political past that she silently carries with her as she spends her days driving Paz and Pol’s daughter, Roni, to school and to the faith healers that Paz finds to treat Roni’s eczema. Both Hero and Pol struggle to define themselves. While Hero cautiously tries out new friends and lovers of all ilks—most notably a makeup artist named Rosalyn—Pol’s crisis of identity will send him on a journey with Roni that threatens the tenuous American roots Paz has worked so hard to put down for the family. Castillo uses multiple languages—Tagalog, Pangasinan, Ilocano—and the strangest of tenses, hopping around in time and among her characters’ heads; that taking all of these risks pays off is a remarkable feat. The result is a brilliant and intensely moving immigrant tale. Agent: Emma Paterson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Apr.)