‘The Evolution of my Brother’ by Jenny Zhang

Zhang’s short stories explore themes of family and immigration, and my favourite is ‘The Evolution of My Brother.’ We’re introduced to a pair of Chinese-American siblings that, like many of Zhang’s characters, have grown up close yet distant; they have quite a large age gap between them, and their closeness waxes and wanes over the course of the story. As the narrator – also named Jenny, which feels like an excellent two-fingers-up to the cliché that women writers are diarists – watches her younger brother grow up, she slowly realises that she has no idea who he is. He’s a little odd around the edges, with anxieties and compulsions that his family struggle to understand. What really gets me about this story is the reflection on not just the evolution of the individual, but also of the meaning of family: “there would come a point when in thinking about ‘family’ we would think of the ones we made, not the ones we were from.” I find that so incredibly sad, and yet so beautifully true.

First published in Rookie, 2011 and collected in Sour Heart, Lenny/Bloomsbury, 2017

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