Molly Zhu’s stunning chapbook debut, Asian American Translations, is a deep and tender meditation on the delicate act of growing up and how time, distance, and differences in culture can create chasms in meaning and understanding. Zhu asks what gets lost in translation, not merely from one language to another, but from generation to generation.
Reminiscent of Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, Zhu turns towards food memories as both a means of relating to her family, as well as a way to demonstrate the divide that exists within the immigrant experience. The speaker is American and not-American, Chinese and not-Chinese, existing instead inside the polarities and trying to find meaning and connection within the shared experience of food. The sizzle of the wok, grease dripping from fresh scallion pancakes as they break softly in your teeth, the sticky residue of honey and sugar, egg yolk running down your chin – these are the intimate spaces of the home in which Zhu immerses us, where each meal becomes a sacred experience, a “kind of worship.”
In American we ate cow tongue and
in American we drank fresh soy milk.
Lychee was our strawberry,
pomelo our grapefruit,
cut fruit, a love language.
Zhu exquisitely examines not only the ways in which she, as an Asian American, is disconnected from the Oreo-Gold-Fish-Chocolate-Chip American families of her youth, but also from her own ancestors, and how, with time and distance, even cherished familial connections can begin to feel tenuous. Food may be what tethers the speaker to her family and heritage, but it is a love language that betrays its own ineffability: “I’ve tried with the same fruit, same water, same sugars dozens of times. / It’s never quite the same.”
There is an insistence to the speaker’s quest for immediacy and empathy that belies a search for the self, as Zhu plummets into her memories to discover the source of her selfhood. At the same time, Zhu acknowledges with aching clarity that the wheels of time cannot be reversed and the silences that grow between us are often too large to breech. While reading these poems, it is easy to feel as though we ourselves are a part of the speaker’s family animal, seeing our own selves reflected back in the strained phone calls with loved ones and the difficult realizations that come with age, as we learn to see our family as people, not just those all-knowing protectors of our youth.
Deeply insightful, painstakingly rendered, and shimmering with vulnerability and candor, Asian American Translations is a beautiful debut collection that gives more with each read.
Preorder Asian American Translations by Molly Zhu from Cordella Press here.
Molly is an Asian American poet and attorney. Her work centers around Chinese culture, her family, and the things that make her cry. She has been published in Hobart Pulp, the Ghost City Press, and Bodega Magazine, among others. In 2021 and 2022, she was nominated for Pushcart prizes. She currently serves as assistant poetry editor for Passengers Journal. She is the winner of the 2021 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize hosted by the Cordella Press and her debut chapbook, Asian American Translations, is now available for purchase. To learn more please visit www.MollyZhu.com or find her on Instagram @mlz316.
Chelsea Fanning is a writer, poet, editor, feminist, witch from New Jersey. She has an MFA from Drew University and is the poetry editor at Fatal Flaw Magazine. Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net award and has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Plainsongs, OyeDrum, Mom Egg Review, Rogue Agent, Coffin Bell, Phantom Drift Limited, and Ethel Zine, among others. Her poetry delves into themes of womanhood, religion, identity, gender, healthcare, domesticity, and ancestral history.
We sat down with some of the Poets featured in our most recent issue to talk with them about their writing inspiration, how they feel their work "embodied" our theme, and what their creative resolutions are for 2023. Read on to learn more about Eben E. B. Bein, Molly Zhu, Alison Lubar, and Evelyn Berry.