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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Review)

Genre:Contemporary Fiction, Semi-memoir
Publication.Date  April 29th 2010
Pages:307
Where to get: Barnes and Noble, Amazon,
Published By:  Riverhead Books (Penguin)
WebsiteJean Kwok
Girl in Translation - Goodreads
My review copy:Received from the publisher (Thank you!)





          Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life--like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly's story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant--a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
(goodreads.com)




We were paid 1.5 cents per skirt. For years, I calculated whether or not something was expensive by how many skirts it cost. In those days, the subway was 100 skirts just to get to the factory and back, a package of gum cost 7 skirts, a hot dog was 50 skirts, a new toy could range from 300 to 2000 skirts.
There's a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown. I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions. And all the while, I have longer for that which I could not have. At the time when it seemed that everything I'd ever wanted was finally within reach, I made a decision that changed the trajectory of the rest of my life.




     Deeply moving and heart-wrenching, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an intriguing and poignant semi-autobiographical story of a Chinese girl and her mother struggling to build their life from the ground up in Brooklyn, NY. 
 
     With the help from Aunt Paula, Kimberly and her mom are able to leave Hong Kong and move to New York, in hope of finding a better life there. When they arrive in America, Kimberly is only 11 years old and neither she nor her mother can speak any English. Kimberly’s mom feels greatly indebted to her older sister, who paid for her expensive tuberculosis treatment and lent them money for the plane tickets. Aunt Paula, who moved to US after marrying an American man, is now a well established sweatshop owner. To repay the debts to her relatives, Kim’s mom starts working at her sister’s factory. She soon realizes that meeting the unbearably strict deadlines won’t be possible if she works alone, and so she asks her daughter for help. Kim starts coming to the factory straight from school and the two of them work exhausting shifts till late night hours.  They return to their flat only to get few hours of sleep. Their workplace conditions are grueling and inhumane, but the apartment they go back to after work is even worse. Infested with roaches and mice, with broken windows, cracked walls and paint flaked off in most of the places, without heating and hot water, the place they’re forced to live in offers no comfort and no protection whatsoever.  Their living conditions are abominable, but until they pay off their debts there is no hope of finding a better place, and so they patiently endure the cold and the vermin.

     Kimberly attends school, but with her limited English abilities the first few months there are a constant struggle. Discouraged by both her classmates and her teacher’s initially negative and bullying attitude, Kim comes close to giving up her school carrier. For almost a week, afraid of being misunderstood and laughed at, she skips classes and hides out in the freezing-cold and damp apartment. It doesn’t take long, though, for Kimberly to realize that this is not a permanent solution to her problems. She is aware of the fact that her and her mom’s future depends directly on her succeeding at school and making a career for herself. Kim takes upon herself the responsibility of being the breadwinner (or should I say “ricewinner”) for her family and she makes herself a promise, that she will take care of her mother as best as she can.  Thanks to her determination and hard work, Kimberly earns a spot and a full scholarship at an exclusive high school. This, however, is not yet the end of the story, as she will still have some very hard decisions to make. These very important decisions will determine the course of her life.

*
     Girl in Translation is a truly phenomenal semi-memoir and coming-of-age story. I absolutely loved it. It’s written with a simple, yet beautiful language that speaks right to your heart. The phoneticization of English phrases unfamiliar to Kimberly allows you to experience the language barrier for yourself. 

     Deeply compelling and engrossing, it’s a book to savor, not one to quickly read and forget. It’s the kind of book that makes you reflect on your own life and how it compares to the life of others. It deals with so many important issues, like child labor, racial discrimination, bullying, alienation, poverty, worker abuse and many, many more. Through the passages of this book we become vividly aware of the terrible realities of life and labor of Chinese immigrants. The images that Jean Kwok paints with her words shatter the myth of the American Dream. She vividly depicts all the challenges and hardships that Kimberly and her mother are forced to face while they’re trying their best to make a place for themselves in the United States. And to think that this book was in some part based on Jean Kwok’s personal experiences just breaks my heart. Meaningful and moving, Girl in Translation is a wonderful eye-opener!



 


28 comments:

scattered_laura said...

Oooo this one needs to live on my wishlist. Sounds really really gooooood.

Donna said...

Beautiful review. Thank you. Donna

cleemckenzie said...

I loved this:". . .fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time." Very nice, indeed.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

Fab review. This sounds like my kind of book.

Bonnie said...

What an absolutely beautiful review! This book has been on my TBR list since I first saw it and your review confirms it for me that I simply MUST read this book!

Jennifer said...

Not sure that this genre is for me. But sounds like you loved it!

Jill said...

I have had this on my wishlist for quite a while, and really, you've just made me want to read it more!

Amelia said...

Fabulous review, Evie! The cover of this book is gorgeous and from what you said in your review, I understand that the story is even better!
Can't wait to read it. I'm heading over to Amazon to order it! :)

ishita said...

By the title I felt i wouldn't like it...but the review changed that....seems like my kind of Book!!! thanks :D i just ordered it !!!

scarletkira said...

The book review is awesome. I usually don't read memoirs or even semi-memoirs but it does seem interesting

Phanee said...

I have to say I am not a big fan of memoirs (or semi-memoirs), but this one sounds rather interesting. You have definitely made me interested in reading it! Thanks for the lovely review! :)

Erin said...

I listened to this one and was blown away. I didn't realize until after I'd finished the book that it was semi-autobiographical. It gave the book a whole other level.

SusieBookworm (Susanna) said...

This looks amazing - it shows a whole other side of American life that's not seen often.

tfalick said...

seriously awesome review, and it is spot on. I loved this book!

SweetestLittleBookworm said...

I have the audiobook version of this book checked out from my library right now. I hope it will be as deep and wonderful as everyone is saying it is when it is read. This is a lovely review. Thanks so much for it.

Nikita said...

Sounds interesting and the cover is good too. :) I like reading autobiographical stories once in a while. Thanks for the review! :)
Nikita

Amy (ArtsyBookishGal) said...

Now this one is DEFINITELY on my list, and you made me want to go out and buy it right now. I love cross-cultural stories. Thanks for another great review. I love how you post the synopsis, quotes, and then your opinion. It's nicely organized.

Brittany said...

I love moving and meaningful books! Nice review.

IdentitySeeker said...

Wow! This book seems like it's a worthwhile read. This is the first I've heard of it but, after reading your review, I know that I'm adding it to my to-read list. Great review!

Miss Lauren said...

Ok, so I've had this book on my kindle now and I still haven't read it. I've been reading my library books instead. After reading your review, looks like I'm going to have to bump it up my TBR list! Thanks for the review.

Janinay said...

I've read Chinese Cinderella (or Falling Leaves for the thicker volume). You might want to check it out. :D

jennybobenny said...

I can really relate to this book!

aurora M. said...

This looks like a GREAT read. Thanks for steering me to my next great read.

Krystal said...

I really loved this book. I thought the character was likable and easy to relate to. Thanks for the great review!

therainhouse said...

Sounds like I must read this book!

I love memoirs and semi-biographical books. Especially ones that involve Asians in fish-out-of-water situations.

FairyWhispers said...

ahhh, teens should read more books like this to expand their reading scope . that's wht i think

Munnaza said...

Girl in Translation sounds beautiful and moving, and one that seems like something everyone should read, especially because of the important issues it deals with and the way it deals with them. I can't believe I haven't heard of this one before!

laraemilie said...

Amazing review! I would like to read this book, the story seems just right for me!

Lara Emilie @ http://powers-of-words.blogspot.com

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