Review Blog

Oct 02 2017

Sour heart by Jenny Zhang

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(Age: Adult) This story consists of interweaving chapters about Chinese refugees and migrants struggling to make a new life in the U.S. It begins with a chapter about 'Sour girl' and the places her parents are forced to live - including a shared room with five mattresses on the floor with various other families on the other mattresses, and a blocked toilet that they use chopsticks to force the contents down the pipe. They are at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords and street gangs that steal their possessions. Life is so hard that eventually Sour girl's parents have to send her back to Shanghai to live with her grandmother until they can afford to care for her again. Family members are frequently separated, with people sent to different places around the world. And that breaking, reconnecting and breaking up of relationships again and again takes its toll on them all. Parents sacrifice and suffer, and children harden their hearts. This is set within the historical context of the Cultural Revolution in China where people were turned against each other. Some of the childhood cruelty and heartlessness of that time becomes hard to read at times.
The language of the book captures the continuous thought processes of children, often telling the story in one long rambling sentence as another thought adds another clause, twisting on and on; sentences can be a page long. We are drawn into the experience of each narrator, seeing things from each perspective, gradually working out how people connect together.
The families endure the hardships and do survive, and people manage to make a new life; thanks to their own determination and perseverance - qualities we read about again and again in refugee and migrant stories. The values of caring for family, working hard, and protecting memories, continue to hold strong despite the hardships and challenges.
Helen Eddy

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