Wednesday, April 10, 2019

AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART


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America Is Not the Heart, Elaine Costillo, Penguin Random House, 2018, 408 pp
 
I read this debut novel because it was a contender in the 2019 Tournament of Books. It did not win though another debut novel I read did: My Sister the Serial Killer.
 
While I ended up liking the novel, I felt it suffered a bit as far as structure went. It jumps back and forth in time quite frequently. I could tell that the author was relating the main character's present life to incidents from her past but it was somewhat awkwardly done. I often felt like I needed more information sooner than I got it.
 
Other than that, I was caught up in the story of a late 20s Filipina come to America because the Philippines had become too dangerous for her. Her name is Hero and she was born into a wealthy family. After spending some years studying to be a doctor in her home country, she went rogue and joined the resistance to its current government.

Hero spent 10 years hiding out with a cadre of resisters until finally she was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. After her release, her uncle, now in America, pulled strings to help her emigrate. In the present time she is living in Milpitas, CA, a suburb of San Francisco in a section called the South Bay, now part of Silicon Valley. She stays in her uncle's house in a neighborhood of Filipino immigrants helping out with her young niece.

The story tells how she deals with her PTSD and her bi-sexual orientation among a heavily Christian group of people. She also comes to terms with her birth family in the Philippines while finding her place with her new family in Milpitas.

I am glad I read America Is Not the Heart. I never knew much about the Philippines beyond its figuring in WWII and I learned plenty. I enjoyed reading about the customs, ceremonies, food and interactions of the Milpitas Filipino community. 

While living at our previous home, my elderly neighbor had a live-in caregiver who was a Filipina. They were both lovely women and we became friends as we shared a driveway, but I never asked Denia about her background.

Back in the 90s, when I used to tour to promote my albums, I played at a Borders Books and Music store in Milpitas, never knowing about the Filipino community there. Music played a big part in the book, both traditional and popular. The people would have parties in their garages, sitting on the concrete floor, drinking and eating and dancing to the tunes spun by one of their people who worked a side-line as a DJ.

All part of the tale of immigrants in America.

19 comments:

  1. This sounds very good. I personally knew a few folks who emigrated from the Philippines to the United States. I think the government is very bad there and I would not blame anyone for joining the resistance against it. The heroine of this book sounds like a very well crafted and interesting character.

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    1. I am glad you got that from what I wrote. She was one of the more interesting characters I have met in a while.

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  2. I'll have to check this novel out. I have read several books written by Filipinos and enjoyed them. My husband is Filipino American.

    Interestingly enough, my husband and his family immigrated to the USA from the Philippines in the early to mid 1970s when he was 7 years old. They lived in Milpitas, California when they first came to the USA before eventually moving to the LA area within a year or two after coming to the US. Their immigrant story is quite interesting. Milpitas still has a large Filipino community from what I understand.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading/learning about the Filipino culture/heritage because that is where my husband and his family is from.

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    1. What a wonderful coincidence, Lisa. Please could you leave another comment with a short list of the books you liked most? I would like to read more.

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    2. P. S. I thought you might find this recent article from Electric Literature insightful.

      https://electricliterature.com/7-non-fiction-books-about-filipinx-america-by-pinoy-writers/?fbclid=IwAR2OWnPqRwhwDbZucvK9HOErc9_Fbr3TWSIB-7JHcLj-thdTB42aUZuAhFY

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    3. Indeed it is! Thank you. My favorite sentence in the article: "I would love to see a panel about identity consisting of entirely middle-class writers." Because that is part of what I am trying to do in the book I am writing. By that, I mean that identity is a human concern, not solely a class or racial or immigrant concern.

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  3. The following are four books I remember reading and enjoying:

    Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn
    Dream Jungle by Jessican Hagedorn
    The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn
    The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

    I haven't read anything by Melissa de la Cruz but, but hear she's a fabulous writer. She writes young adult novels.

    Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco is another book I also want to read by a Filipino author. It won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize.

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    1. Thank you so much. I did not realize that Melissa de la Cruz was a Filipina. I have been wanting to read some YA lately.

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    2. I met Melissa de la Cruz last year @ the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. I was able to speak a little bit of Tagalog with her and had her sign one of her novels for me, which I still need to read.

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    3. Very cool. I looked her up, she has written a ton of books, some even for adults, lots of series for YA readers.

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  4. What did win the Tournament of Books, Judy? I'm never sure how to follow it.

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    1. My Sister, the Serial Killer won. You have to keep your eye out for when it is first announced each year. Then you must sign up for email alerts each day of the Tournament.
      Link to the 2019 Brackets: https://themorningnews.org/p/here-are-your-2019-tournament-of-books-brackets
      Link to the final day (from which you can see the daily competition in a sidebar: https://themorningnews.org/tob/
      Hope that helps. I usually don't agree with the judges but it is fun to watch. I print out the brackets and follow along.
      TOB also has a Facebook page.

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  5. Okay this is going onto my TBR for sure because in some areas, I can really relate to the author and I love books like that.

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  6. My brother-in-law's significant other is Filipina and we've learned quite a bit about the culture through her. Especially the food - she's a wonderful cook. But it is indeed a very interesting culture. I think I may add this one to my list.

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    1. I am happy to see these Filipina and Filipino connections showing up. There is lots about the food in the novel, lots!

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  7. It's good to have a glimpse of other cultures. It seems this one did that for you. Nice write-up.

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