Sour Heart

Sour Heart is a short story collection by 2016 National Magazine finalist Jenny Zhang (Dear Jenny: We Are All Find). In it, she captures the emotional burdens and challenges faced by Asian immigrant daughters as they struggle to realize their mothers' expectations of the American dream. These interconnected stories are written from an adolescent point of view, with dark humor, longing and unrequited desire.

In one story, a 10-year-old girl lives a surrealistic existence with her down-and-out parents; they scrimp and scam their living in Flushing, N.Y., until their joblessness forces them to give up their child to relatives in Shanghai. In another, a child's silent prayer to God becomes a lonely plea for personal acceptance and understanding. The suffocating need for filial affection builds into a cycle from which the child realizes, with resignation, that history is doomed to repeat itself across successive generations between two continents.

Zhang uses stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentences to convey the uncertainty and fear each daughter faces. These are girls contemplating the burden to succeed, so that they don't cause their families to lose face: "Why did my mother, a grown woman, get to talk like all her hopes and dreams had been shat on, kicked, and set on fire, all the while pushing me, a mere girl, a child, to do better, to accomplish more, to face down all the odds and become a legend? When was I supposed to complain the way they did? To be validated the way they validated each other?"

Zhang's observations are like punches to the heart, raw and intimate in their immediacy. In addressing the universal themes of loneliness, alienation and the yearning for unconditional love, Sour Heart becomes an immigrant American's study in moral courage. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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