Activist Jen Soriano brings to light the lingering impacts of transgenerational trauma and uses science, history, and family stories to flow toward transformation in this powerful collection that brings together the lyric storytelling, cultural exploration, and thoughtful analysis of The Argonauts, The Woman Warrior, What My Bones Know, and Minor Feelings.
The power of quiet can haunt us over generations, crystallizing in pain that Jen Soriano views as a form of embodied history. In this searing memoir in essays, Soriano, the daughter of a neurosurgeon, journeys to understand the origins of her chronic pain and mental health struggles. By the end, she finds both the source and the delta of what bodies impacted by trauma might need to thrive. In fourteen essays connected by theme and experience, Soriano traverses centuries and continents, weaving together memory and history, sociology and personal stories, neuroscience and public health, into a vivid tapestry of what it takes to transform trauma not just body by body, but through the body politic and ecosystems at large.
Beginning with a shocking timeline juxtaposing Soriano’s medical history with the history of hysteria and witch hunts, Nervous navigates the human body—centering neurodiverse, disabled, and genderqueer bodies of color—within larger systems that have harmed and silenced Filipinos for generations. Soriano’s wide-ranging essays contemplate the Spanish-American War that ushered in United States colonization in the Philippines; the healing power of an inherited legacy of music; a chosen family of activists from the Bay Area to the Philippines; and how the fluidity of our nervous systems can teach us how to shape a trauma-wise future.
With Nervous, Soriano boldly invites us along on a watershed journey toward healing, understanding, and communion.
Jen Soriano (she/they) is a writer, performer, social movement strategist, and author of the chapbook “Making the Tongue Dry.” She writes from the body about silenced and sidelined stories that long for the space to shine. Jen’s essays have received the Penelope Niven Prize and the Fugue Prose Prize, and she’s been awarded fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, Hugo House, and the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat. Jen was also a finalist in the 2019 Ploughshares emerging writers contest. Jen currently serves as the writer-in-residence for Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. Originally from a landlocked area of southwest Chicago, she now lives with her husband, son, and seven-month-old water dog on Duwamish territory, Seattle, near the Salish Sea.
“Nervous takes the focus from the abstract and does what doctors (and historians) failed to do: makes her story, her pain, and her life as real as any history that proceeded. Nervous gives face and weight to those forgotten women whose suffering has become little more than anecdotal collections of stories, not real people. It’s seamless and powerful. Nervous is a masterful personal narrative, beautifully written and captivating. It should– and will– be placed alongside some of the best well-crafted and compelling contemporary memoirs of this era." — Bassey Ikpi, New York Times bestselling author of I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying
"This book is such a gift! Part medical history, part lyrical memoir, Jen Soriano traces the rivers and tributaries of her pain, becoming fluent in the language of her body. Nervous: Essays on Heritage and Healing is a revelation for every person who has been silenced, neglected, and made to feel unworthy of care. Luminous and tender, Nervous is not your conventional trauma narrative.” — Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project and author of Year of the Tiger
"I couldn't put it down. This book brings light to the dark tunnels of history that live in our bodies. I wish for all mental health, social services, and wellness practitioners to read Nervous." — Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel, author of Coming Full Circle and editor of Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous
“Nervous is the epitome of innovation. In this painfully glorious essay collection, Jen Soriano illuminates the ways Filipinos have been mistreated and oppressed by a multitude of systems, both in colonial times and in the present. That is the best of what a collection can do: giving voice to the silent corners we’ve been forced into. Nervous accomplishes that and much more—a true literary achievement.” — Evette Dionne, award-winning author of Lifting As We Climb and Weightless
“As I neared the end of this viscerally moving book, I thought of my students hungrily absorbing the stories in Nervous along with the stories in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings. . . Nervous has instantly joined the crucial works of Asian American literature and the newly teeming space of American literature as a whole. A brilliant reckoning . . . Though it is steeped in pain, Nervous is nevertheless a testament of exultant embodiment—of woundedness and remedy, of memory and history, of disruption and coalition, of diaspora and belonging.”
— Rick Barot, author of The Galleons and Chord
“The essays in Nervous crackle and pulse with a beautiful bodily wisdom that animates a sparkling intellect. Jen Soriano tenderly, unflinchingly excavates layers of history and pain—found both in her body and our body politic—and offers all of us tools and materials to build a path toward wholeness. I’m in awe of Jen Soriano and you will be too.”
— Angela Garbes, author of Essential Labor and Like a Mother
“Candid and affecting, this family saga testifies to the far-reaching effects of trauma.” — Publishers Weekly
“Jen Soriano’s debut…dissects transgenerational trauma. Drawing upon science, history and memory, Soriano illuminates the connection between mind and body, telling a story of living with mental illness with stunning, poetic prose.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“Soriano’s elegant prose and imaginative approaches to form propel the text smoothly between disparate topics….a deeply felt narrative….A cerebral Asian American memoir about the complexity of inherited pain.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Validating and illuminating, this book is a balm to those of who were born ‘nervous.’” — Glamour
“Candid and original, this collection addresses transgenerational trauma and healing using science, history and memoir. In it, Soriano lyrically reflects on the nervous among us and brings new understanding to the liberatory power of naming, uncovering and healing.”
— Ms. magazine
“[A] searing book that doesn't shy away from exploring the most intimate of topics….Soriano powerfully meditates on both pain and healing.” — Time
“[A] riveting account of how the violence of war and colonization manifest in a descendant’s nervous system.” — Boston Globe
"Jen Soriano’s memoir is a book worth reading." — International Examiner