Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart explores the difficulty of being caught on the hyphen of Chinese-American in biting, brutal, darkly hilarious style.

Book Review by Ross McIndoe | 07 Sep 2017
  • Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
Book title: Sour Heart
Author: Jenny Zhang

Nowhere is the quest for identity more pronounced or confusing than in the literature of the displaced – those who find themselves torn between two homes and unable to fully root themselves in either. Taking seven tales of immigrant daughters, Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart explores the difficulty of being caught on the hyphen of Chinese-American in biting, brutal, darkly hilarious style.

The young girls at the centre of her stories are unformed, still coming to terms with their bodies and gender, their strengths and shortcomings, their parents and siblings.  They are still uncomfortable in their own skin – its shape, its colour, the way it changes. Their rundown homes are the only slice of the world for them to call their own, the blazing, bitter crucibles where they desperately try to define themselves with and against one another. The parents' disillusionment and regret, the children’s jealousy and disappointment – all that sourness is internalised and intensified as they fight tooth and nail with each other and themselves.

After six stories of obsessive friendships, vicious arguments, toxic marriages and furious children, Sour Heart’s final entry offers a vision of calm after the storm. This final, more reflective note deepens everything that came before, allowing it to offer hope without resorting to platitudes. We see the cracks get made as they tear at each other across six stories, and then we see the light get in.

Out now, published by Bloomsbury, RRP £16.99