Whole Heart

One Woman’s Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America

Non-Fiction - Womens
172 Pages
Reviewed on 06/12/2021
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Author Biography

Michelle Felix was born and raised in South Africa. She moved to The United States in search of opportunities and personal growth. She works as a mental health professional, behavioral coach, and mental health advocate. She lives in Hawaii. "Whole Heart" is her first book.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

It’s the simple things in life that are the most important. Through trials and tribulations, one can always resort to the sage words of wisdom from great minds like Mahatma Gandhi: “Where there is love there is life.” Growing up in South Africa in the 1980s, Michelle struggled with both her health and her sense of belonging during a difficult time in South African history. Being of East Indian descent, she was neither black nor white. Her frequent asthma attacks and near-death experiences as a child made life complicated on the home front and the tension between her parents mounted, making home life feel almost hostile. Burdened with regret, as a young girl she believed she was responsible for the family’s turmoil, a heartbreaking reality in so many broken families. But, there were some good times, and, as the author admits, “Many unforgettable moments are worth more than a lifetime of memories.” A dream formulated in her mind and heart, a dream that would take her an ocean and a continent away from her family. Her dream was to move to America. Although she achieved her dream, it didn’t come without a lot more hard work and hardship.

Michelle Felix’s memoir, Whole Heart: One woman’s incredible and heartbreaking journey from Africa to America, is a touching, compassionate story about a young woman’s difficult journey. For that’s what life is, a journey full of joy and sorrows, sometimes more one than the other. The author begins her narrative with her ancestry and how her family came to be permanent residents of South Africa but never fitting in because they were neither white nor black. She gives a heart-wrenching tale of the family discord that escalated throughout her growing-up years. Coupled with her multiple near-death experiences due to being born with severe asthma, there were few happy moments in her youth. The author has a powerful command of language, especially in her descriptive narrative which eloquently and sometimes brutally describes the scenes and the situations in this woman’s life. At times, the memoir is vibrantly raw in its harsh revelations of a tragic life. Frequently being hit by unexpected and unhappy events, the author proved her strength and resilience to carry on. This is a powerful story that will encourage others to carry on, despite the odds stacked up against them. Beautiful writing.

Asher Syed

Whole Heart by Michelle Felix is the author's memoir as she chronicles her early life in South Africa and her eventual transition to life in the United States. The book begins with Felix describing the unusual neither-here-nor-there conflict of being of Indian descent in Africa. She also details a tempestuous childhood of illness and conflict between her parents, and her mother's suicide. Her father disappears into his life with a new wife and Felix and her sister, now a secret and a burden to their father, live with an aunt until their father's mother finally demands that her son take responsibility for his girls. Despite her struggles, Felix blossoms in the medical field and through her volunteer work, until she finds one day that she has won the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, colloquially known as the United States green card lottery, and moves to the States where she finds a life of her own, love, and the emotional healing she has long sought.

Michelle Felix opens up her Whole Heart as she traces the steps of a childhood that is almost impossible to fathom, and the repeated spreading of her own wings in the face of them being continually clipped. She perseveres through her own determination, some luck, and the will of God. The tragedy of losing her mother to suicide and her father to murder sits heavily on Felix's shoulders as she tries to understand both parents in a way no person should ever have to. Being able to look back with modern sensibilities and full knowledge of the devastating consequences of untreated mental health issues, I found myself feeling incredibly sorry for Felix's father who bore the brunt of the blame despite his desire to leave an unhappy marriage, which we all obviously have the right to do, no matter who is to blame for the unhappiness. However, his abandonment of his daughters is inexcusable. Whole Heart is written simply and in a straightforward manner that some readers might find a little bit on the slow side. Overall, this is a well-told memoir that I have no doubt will be cherished as a family record by Felix's descendants for generations to come.

Heather Stockard

In this touching memoir, Michelle Felix recounts her childhood and coming of age in Durban, South Africa. The odds seemed against her from her premature birth, which left her struggling with asthma and learning difficulties. In spite of this, Michelle’s early years were happy. Her mother and father loved and supported her, though their work kept them away from home most of the time. But as Michelle grew older, things changed. Her parents began to fight as her father withdrew from the family. Her mother, unable to cope without her husband, spiraled into depression and took her own life. Michelle found herself alone, passed from one relative to another. But in her darkest hour, she discovered light and hope in God’s love. She began attending church and found new friends and happiness. It was the beginning of a journey that would lead her across continents and oceans to a land of opportunities. Her faith gave her the strength to face her future and find meaning and love in her life.

Michelle Felix’s story is an emotional journey from childhood to adulthood, from hopelessness to hope. Her faith and strength, and her way of using her painful experiences to help others, are inspiring. She writes simply and her words are powerful. Their message of hope will resonate with everyone. Readers will be moved to tears by Michelle’s struggles, but also uplifted by her spirit and determination. Her story is ultimately one of forgiveness and love and faith in God that will inspire readers of all ages and from all walks of life.

Mamta Madhavan

Whole Heart: One Woman's Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America by Michelle Felix is the author's story of pain, hope, courage, healing, redemption, and restoration. Every reader has their unique journey and that makes them different from each other because of the experiences that shape them and their future. Set against the backdrop of South Africa, the author who is of Indian origin takes readers to the night that changed her life forever; the night when she found her mother hanging. She speaks of how heartbreaking it was to lose her mum at the age of 11 and to accept the reality of it. She speaks of moving back to her dad's house and how her stepmom despised her - she often wondered if it was for this woman her dad left her mother to whom he was married for seventeen years. It was only when her aunt came and picked her up to stay with family in Pretoria that Michelle felt finally she had found a home.

Michelle Felix's grief is palpable through the memoir but what is inspiring is the way she learned to find joy amid the darkness with the help of her faith in God. Her story of survival will motivate many readers to let go of what happened in their past and focus on the future. She also shares her dream of moving to the US. The book will inspire readers to dream so that they can face hurdles in life. The memoir is honest and straightforward and the author shares every aspect of her journey with readers, drawing them into her life and journey. Whole Heart: One Woman's Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America will definitely inspire, encourage, and give hope to many readers out there to create their own roads and walk along them.

Grant Leishman

Whole Heart: One Woman’s Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America by Michelle Felix is a heartrending yet inspiring tale of how one young woman, who suffered tragedy and heartbreak throughout her childhood, somehow found the strength, resilience, and confidence to rise above her travails and make a successful and happy life for herself, ultimately in the United States. Michelle was a happy child for a long time, although she struggled at school and in the shadow of her elder sister. It was the collapse of her parents' marriage that threw Michelle’s world into utter turmoil, though. When her parents split, Michelle really would have preferred to have gone with her father but since her elder sister chose her father, she felt duty-bound to go with her mother, so the woman would not be left all alone. A family tragedy that would rob Michelle of all her hope in life was the beginning of a period of real pain and angst for the young girl. Despite all her suffering, Michelle still somehow managed to see a better life for herself somewhere out there, and a working holiday visa to Great Britain was the catalyst that propelled her into a situation where she had to dig deep and find the resilience and confidence that was buried deep inside her. A chance lottery for a U.S. Green Card saw her grab the opportunity with both hands and head out into the unknown to build a future for herself that she and her parents could be proud of.

Whole Heart is a truly inspiring read that emphasizes how an individual’s mindset and intention are more important than the circumstances that happen around them in developing a future and a happy life, out of pain, suffering, and angst. Michelle Felix has invited readers into her most personal space and shared the worst and the best of her thoughts, her fears, and her triumphs. What resonates most through this story is Michelle’s unflinching belief in there being something better out there for her and she just needed to continue seeking it and following her heart. This is a powerful read that will capture the reader’s imagination and hearts, as the author carries you along in a life that although fraught with angst was never dark or maudlin – there was always hope just over the horizon. One of the things that stood out for me was that Michelle of Indian extraction in a country where skin color had been so vitally important felt that she really didn’t fit in anywhere. She wasn’t dark enough to be considered “black”, nor white enough to be considered “white”. Indians were caught somewhere in the middle of the South African race war and this no doubt contributed to Michelle’s inability to find her place in a world where she felt alien. This is an excellent read and one I can highly recommend, especially given its up-to-date relevance, with mentions of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Michelle’s and her loved ones' lives.

K.C. Finn

Whole Heart: One Woman’s Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America is a work of non-fiction in the autobiographical genre. It is suitable for the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Michelle Felix. The book follows the author’s journey from her difficult childhood in Africa, filled with family problems, to her transition to living in America, where she pursued her goal of being free from her past. The book explores how the cycle of painful experiences and the grief that they caused is a cycle that the author found a way to break through finding a way to use the pain to create a positive purpose for her life.

Memoirs always have the power to hit that bit harder than works of fiction discussing the same subjects and themes, and it’s a power that authors of such works have to be trusted to wield responsibly. Sharing painful stories, in particular, is something that must be done with the skill to avoid alienating a reader, and this is a skill that Michelle Felix demonstrates many times over in this work, tempering the upsetting and distressing tales from her early years by focusing on the wisdom she gained from living through them. The pain is not ignored or sidelined but instead is treated as a catalyst to the journey that the author is chronicling in Whole Heart. The end result is a triumphant tale that should inspire those readers who are experiencing hardships of their own. By sharing not just the pain but the joy that was found through fighting on and overcoming the pain, Michelle Felix’s story stands ready to inspire hope in readers around the world.