America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo review – an impressive debut novel

The intricacies of Filipino-American society are explored in a fresh, tender story about one woman’s journey from torture in the Philippines to a new life in California

As titles go, this one is forceful: it proclaims that the book will correct some misconception about either nation or organ. The novel centres on a quiet woman with broken thumbs. Hero lives in Milpitas, a suburb of San Jose, California, where she works in a restaurant, babysits her cousin and flirts with Rosalyn, a cute makeup artist. Slowly, she reveals her past to Rosalyn and to the reader. Hero has travelled far: from a wealthy childhood in the Philippines, to the mountains where she was a doctor for guerrilla revolutionary group the National People’s Army, to the locked room in which she was tortured, and finally to America.

Related: Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte orders soldiers to shoot female rebels 'in the vagina'

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White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht review – Korea’s pain

This debut novel reveals how the suffering of Korean ‘comfort women’ in the 20th century still shapes lives today

George Orwell taught us that all writing is political: Mary Lynn Bracht’s debut novel is forthrightly so. White Chrysanthemum is the story of two Korean sisters separated by the second world war. Hana is dragged away by a Japanese soldier to a life of sexual slavery; Emi is left to grow up wondering what happened to her sister. Hana’s narrative covers the war years, while in Emi’s chapters it is 2011, and the elderly Emi is still looking for her sister.

The language is blunt, with every page shouting of wrongs perpetrated. Bracht rejects the old mantra of show, don’t tell; her characters’ pain is shown, told, shown and told again. For example: “Anger and fear swarm through her body, radiating in hot waves to the soldier beside her. He stole her ...