Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"Why Were They Throwing Bricks?" - A Short Story by Jenny Zhang, author of Sour Heart (2017)

"MY GRANDMOTHER CAME BACK two years later. I was in middle school, and my pathetic puberty struck like a flash of lightning in the middle of the night — I suddenly saw all my surroundings for what they were: hideous and threatening. I had no friends, social life, interests, talents, breasts, straight teeth, likability, normal clothes, or charm, and every day I came home weighed down with dread. I started to fake illnesses so I could stay home with my 2-year-old brother. I followed him around everywhere, crawling when he crawled and walking on my knees when he learned to walk so that we were the same height.
When my grandmother moved in for the second time, she told us that this time she wasn’t leaving. She was going to apply for a green card and raise my brother until he was old enough to be on his own — 18, maybe 19.
“We’ll see about that,” my father said in Chinese, and then to me and my mother in English, “Let Grandma believe what she wants to believe. My gut says we’ll be back at the travel agency in March, or my name is not Daddy, problem solver of this house.” From "Why Were They Throwing Bricks" by Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang's debut collection of linked short stories centering on young women from Shanghai recently immigrated to America, Sour Heart, is being raved about all over the literary press.  I was delighted to find on her beautiful website a short story narrated by a young female immigrant from Shanghai living in New York City area with her parents and younger brother, over several years of her life, centering around her relationship with her grandmother.

I'm very much suggesting all lovers of the short story read "Why Were They Throwing Bricks" (you will find the story on her website linked above) so I will just keep this post mercifully brief. This story is included in her collection.

The narrator and her grandmother are very close, as a very young girl in Shanghai, she slept in her grandmother's bed.  The grandmother moves to America four separate times.  On one occasion she reluctantly returns to China to stay with her husband while he dies from cancer, this taking two years.  We feel the very closeness of the bond between the girl and her grandmother.  As is usual, the girl is perfectly adopted to her new country, speaking like a native while the older generations struggle.  Zhang provides us numerous brilliant telling small details showing how immigrants are treated.  The grandmother has a job in a factory on Long Island, making wontons for Chinese restaurants, she is paid by how many she completes.  She is able to make twice as many as average, begins to show other workers how to make more so the bosses say her work is defective and disallow half her completed wontons.  Welcome to America.  

This is a wonderful story.  There are two more stories linked on her webpage.  I will for sure read them soon and if the book blog Gods are willing I will read her full collection.

Jenny Zhang, 33, was born in Shanghai and raised in New York. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for fiction. She has two published collections of poetry, Hags and Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, for which Zhang was compared to “a 21st-century Whitman, only female, Chinese, and profoundly scatological”. Sour Heart, a collection of short stories about New York’s Chinese American community largely told from the point of view of young girls, is the first book published by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny imprint at Random House in the US. - from The publisher.

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