Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In Sour Sweet, the cross-cultural theme is developed through the tensions between characters and in their conflicts among themselves and with their environment. In the novel’s record of a first-generation immigrant experience is a wry commentary on the ways in which a collision of cultures invariably proves that all human beings are the same in many respects, regardless of ethnic origins. The Chens, trying to make a good life for themselves in an alien society, are forced either to withdraw into the safety of the family circle or to adjust, often reluctantly. Timothy Mo provides a striking metaphor for the Chen family’s imperviousness to English customs:

. . . that household (that amoeba) presented with change and challenge, shuddered like jelly on impact with the obstacle but jelly-like suffered no damage, poured itself around the problem, dissolved what it was able and absorbed what it could not. And went on its amoeba way.

Confronted with the English bureaucracy and school system, business competition from other immigrants, strange holidays, and even stranger cuisine, the Chens and Mui react and adjust (or accept as Mui often does) and then resume living as they would have in Hong Kong. Forced by circumstances to leave London’s Chinese neighborhoods, the Chen family re-creates its own alternative culture in South London, celebrating the lunar New Year, growing Chinese...

(The entire section is 533 words.)