Book Reviews

Review: Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

Sour Heart is a fantastic collection of seven short stories, that not only shine a spotlight on immigrant history, but also on the transition these families undergo from generation to the next, passing on their burdens and sharing their own stories.


This debut collection of short stories focuses on the immigrant experience of Chinese and Taiwanese people during the 1990s in New York City. These seven stories highlight different reasons for leaving, family situations, and protagonists who all explore the meaning of belonging, home, family, and identity. All connected by a thread, the stories of women fleeing the Cultural Revolution, exploring their body for the first time, or watching their little brother grow up, shed a different shade of light onto the community’s experiences.


While each of these stories looks at different people and situations, there is a red thread connecting them all: their interaction with one family in particular. This central family begins and ends this collection, like bookends, introducing us to the way poverty, culture, and family intersect. And waving us goodbye with a story that looks to the future, examines the scars of the past on each generation, as we witness the beginning of another.

The Stories

In this way, these two stories were my favorite, because of Zhang’s powerful and compelling narration in the first, unlike anything I have ever read before. And finally, because of Zhang’s ability to encapsulate all the experiences in between, within the span of a single story, reminding us that the next generation goes forward with a careless freedom for never having to experience the struggles of the previous, but shaped by it nonetheless.

While I enjoyed these two snippets the most, the five stories in between were like looking into shards of glass. Each had its own distinctive flair and point to be made. The interwoven history of the families within this collection made it feel like we were reading the history of one big family. And in a way that’s exactly what it was. This community of immigrants, united by their shared feelings of hopelessness, of dreams withered, and the exhaustion of the daily, formed a tight knit community that acted as a pseudo family organism.


Some major themes throughout were the sacrifice of parents for children, the hollowed out remains of the American dream, the entitlement of future generations, and the strain of immigration on the entire family. No small feat, and Zhang explores these issues within the span of seven stories comprised of varying narration styles and voices that come together into a chorus.


I do not want to delve into each story individually, but I think that this collection is perfect for those that grew up in New York City, any Chinese or Taiwanese-American immigrants, or anyone who is curious about interaction between the second-generation immigrant individuals and their family.

You can pre-order up Sour Heart on Amazon(US), it releases August 1st, or add it to Goodreads.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.


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