cover image Sour Heart

Sour Heart

Jenny Zhang. Lenny, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-58938-6

The first collection of short stories by poet and essayist Zhang (Dear Jenny, We Are All Find) highlights the intersections between several Chinese and Taiwanese immigrant families living in and around New York City, all of whom are trying to bridge the gap between the old world they’ve left behind—forever altered by the Cultural Revolution—and the new lives that they are now trying to build for themselves in the United States. The daughter of two struggling immigrants recounts the early days of her family’s move from China to Brooklyn in “We Love You Crispina,” meticulously detailing the many hardships involved in starting out with nothing in a foreign place. These mostly adolescent female narrators attempt to make sense of their histories as passed down through possibly unreliable stories told to them by their elders. Annie, the narrator of “Our Mothers Before Them,” is regaled with tales about her parents’ artistic prowess back in China before they were forced to flee the dangerous political climate and work for meager wages in a country in which they do not feel welcome. And in “Why Were They Throwing Bricks?” a young girl named Stacy is told violent and horrific stories by her visiting grandmother about a China that Stacy has no memory of ever having lived in. Conflicts often arise between what these immigrant parents want for their children—the kind of life that is no longer available to them where they came from—and what these young women, all of whom feel the powerful yet complicated pull of family, end up wanting for themselves. Taken as a whole, these linked stories illuminate the complexities and contradictions of first-generation life in America. Zhang has a gift for sharp, impactful endings, and a poet’s ear for memorable detail. (Aug.)