Zhang "builds each story carefully and quietly lets it rise to sudden moments of surprising power."


The Sorrows of Others 

Ada Zhang 

A Public Space Books 

May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9781736370964; 160 pages 


Austin native Ada Zhang’s debut book, The Sorrows of Others, draws its illuminating and engrossing fiction from the real-life emotions, misunderstandings, and tensions that can be experienced within many Chinese American families and relationships. 


In this collection of ten short stories, young Chinese Americans keep doing what they can to try to find acceptance, happiness, friends, and success in the American world they have known their whole lives. Meanwhile, their parents, grandparents, or extended family members still remember China as the homeland they were forced to flee during Mao Zedong’s destructive, deadly Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and the 1970s.  Chairman Mao attempted to change the trajectory of China’s twentieth-century history by destroying the careers and lives of many cultured and wealthy citizens.  


The Sorrows of Others, set in Texas, New York, Arizona, and China, moves fluidly through a range of seemingly commonplace, yet tense and revealing, events and issues. Some of these include coming of age, self-image, loneliness, love, marriage, divorce, death, disrupted friendships—and who in the family did or did not take part in the Cultural Revolution. Many Chinese who emigrated to America during or soon after the end of Mao’s turmoil still treasure some of the values and expectations that shaped their younger lives. 


Older and younger family members may find themselves conflicted when a son or daughter wants to marry someone who doesn't share the family's traditional values. Yet, these conflicts may not always revolve around major issues. As Ms. Zhang brings to light, young Chinese Americans' views of their parents or grandparents can also be affected by a much simpler situation such as hearing their mother condemn the electric clothes dryer as a frivolous appliance, seeing her choose to hang wet laundry outside on a clothesline (or, when it rains, an inside railing), and knowing that when in their friends’ houses, most people just use their dryers. 


Sometimes, in this book’s world, visitors from China show up and reveal family secrets that parents or grandparents have tried to hide from their American-born offspring. In the story titled “Knowing,” a Chinese American fifth grader named Eileen is struggling to get into a Texas school district’s advanced math program. Suddenly, she learns that her parents have arranged for her to have a math tutor. This, the author writes, is how Eileen recalls her reactions to the news: 


“We were not connected by blood. He was my mother’s best friend’s father, and though I never readily recall this detail, his wife had just died, prompting him to leave China and move in with his daughter in America. I was told to call him Yeye. Grandfather.” 


When Eileen wonders why she can’t just call him “Sir” or “Mister”—her real grandparents are dead, after all—her mother insists on “Yeye.” “That is the Chinese way,” she declares. It later becomes clear that Eileen’s mother, her mother’s best friend, and Yeye were pushed to opposing sides during the Cultural Revolution, and one of them paid a very steep price for the others’ accusations.  


Ada Zhang now lives in New York City, where she is an associate editor of adult and children’s books. In The Sorrows of Others, she builds each story carefully and quietly lets it rise to sudden moments of surprising power. She is indeed a writer to watch. 



Ada Zhang is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short stories have appeared in A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Alaska Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She grew up in Austin, Texas, and now lives in New York City where she is an associate editor at Running Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. In 2023, she was selected as a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree. The Sorrows of Others is her first book.