Girl in Translation

Monday, October 11, 2010

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead (Penguin)
Release Date: April 29, 2010

I'd been interested in reading this book since it came out but kept putting it off because I wondered if it would be too similar, for me, to other books I've read recently about the Asian culture. I ended up reading it, though, and am so very glad I did because it quickly became one of my favorite reads this year!! I love, love, loved it!! I absolutely adored this book and the character of Kimberly Chang, the author's techniques in showing us this world, and watching Kimberly grow up.

Girl in Translation tells the story about Kimberly Chang and her mother who move to Brooklyn from Hong Kong in the 1970's. Back in Hong Kong, Kimberly is a very smart girl who excels in school. But due to the language barrier once in New York, Kimberly struggles academically. Her experience as an immigrant to the United States is further thwarted and made difficult by the cultural differences she experiences in school, in her living arrangements, being forced to work "under the table" in a sweatshop, etc. The book starts when Kimberly is in the sixth grade, goes through her experiences in high school, and gives us a snapshot of what happens after that.

The author, Jean Kwok, did a fantastic job of bringing the situation to life. She showed me (and helped immerse me in) the world of an immigrant to the United States. She illustrated the cultural differences and adjustments Kimberly and her mother had to make, as well as the importance in the Asian culture of education and "saving face". She also provided an inspiring character that I loved and rooted for and absolutely admired. At the same time, I felt for her as a child trying to protect her mother while trying to fit in at school.

Another thing I loved was how the author used dialogue between the characters to display some of the Chinese culture. Much of the time, the Asian characters spoke in proverbs and metaphors which was normal (and considered clever) for their language but, interpreted to English, made them even more of outsiders than they were. This too, however, exemplified the significant factors of their culture. The author did a fabulous job of explaining things to the reader while keeping it a part of the story.

Despite the extreme poverty that Kimberly and her mother lived in, and the awful ways they were sometimes treated, they were also very lucky because of Kimberly's motivation and intelligence. I got a an insightful (and scary) glance into what things could be like for many immigrants, especially those who didn't embody the skills and drive that Kimberly did.

I loved everything about this book! At times it reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- after all, it's about a young girl coming of age in Brooklyn after her family immigrates to New York. Call it the Asian ATGiB, if you will... especially if that entices you to read this gem! I have been wanting to read this again from the moment I finished!


Mary said...

I was lucky enough to attend a reading by Ms. Kwok at an Indie bookstore near me a few months ago. What an interesting person! I was quite taken with this novel and it will probably end up on my 2010 favorite reads list. Nice review!

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I LOVED everything about this book as well. Great review Jenny.

Suzanne said...

I enjoyed this book as well -- though I was not too pleased with the way the book ended.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've been interested to pick this book up as well -- great to see your review on it. I'm a big fan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so if you got that sense from it, it sounds pretty good to me!

Zibilee said...

I loved this book as well, and thought that Kimberly was a fantastic character. I had such a hard time reading about their time in the factory though, and just felt so awful for what her aunt put them through. Wonderful review! I am so glad to hear that you liked this one too!

Tribute Books Mama said...

Great review will have to read this one.Thanks!

Jean said...

Thank you for this wonderful review! I can't note all blog reviews, but I try to highlight the great ones. I've posted a link on my Facebook fan page:

Jean Kwok

Jenny said...

Mary -- I'm envious! I imagine she would have been very interesting to hear discuss the book!

Bibliophile -- Thanks! I'm glad others liked it too!!

Coffee and a Book Chick -- I just read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this year and loved it and I definitely got that feel while reading this. =)

Suzanne -- I could definitely see that part being controversial... it caught me off guard a little but I still enjoyed it. Thanks for lending this to me!!

Heather -- I DESPISED the aunt's character!! Unfortunately I saw how culturally some of it was normal (competition and all that) but I couldn't stand how awful she was. ESPECIALLY considering she was family!!

Tribute Books -- Thanks! Def. check it out!

Jean -- Thanks so much for stopping by!!

April (BooksandWine) said...

Jenny, I LOVED Girl In Translation as well!

Kimberly was a fabulous character, and you are dead on in mentioning this as the Asian Tree Grows In Brooklyn.

Although, sigh, some parts made me sad, for the most part, what an awesome book!

Jenny said...

April -- I'm so glad you loved it too!! (And that you agree with my comparison, lol!)

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I think I would really like this one. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with us. It makes me want to read it more.

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