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Girl in Translation: A Novel by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation: A Novel

by Jean Kwok

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
I read this book in one day for my Teaching American History Grant Program. I very much enjoyed this read - much more so than I thought I would. The book tells the story about Kim Chang and her Ma who come to New York City from Hong Kong in the 1970s. Kim was in the 6th grade and the story talks about her trials and successes adapting to her new country socially, culturally, and economically. This is the type of book I would want my Republican friends to read as it tells the real story of immigration. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to come to a brand new country, work as hard as you possibly can just to survive, and have little to no hope of moving up in the world. This book challenges the American dream myth and does so in a realistic way. I could not help but root for Kim at all parts of the story.

What makes the book really work for me is that it does not just follow the "everything comes out ok in the end" philosophy that most books follow. The story was raw and realistic. Recommended to all. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
I "read" this via audiobook, and I really enjoyed it. I didn't know much about sweatshops existing in the States, I still don't know to what degree this is going on today, but this offers a look into that world for two Chinese immigrants. It's easy to see how someone might get stuck in that life, and Kim is a strong and driven main character who has the determination to get out. ( )
  SoubhiKiewiet | Mar 20, 2018 |
Couldn't put it down! ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
Good coming of age novel that is undone by poor ending. I had been meaning to read this book and was pushed into finally picking it up after seeing author Jean Kwok has another tome coming out. This is a coming of age novel for a young woman who moves from Hong Kong to New York to make a better life for herself.
Kimberly must navigate the new world of the US in its language, customs, school (which is already a trial when you're a native born and raised!). Told over a period of years, we watch as she learns to better grasp English, help her mother in the factor (owned by her aunt and uncle), try to stay afloat and then well in school and more.
As a story it's a familiar one, but I still appreciated reading the tale through the eyes of a young woman. In some ways it does read very much like a YA novel (although I'm not sure it was marketed as such) as it is told through the eyes of the young protagonist and mostly focuses on conflicts one of her age would come across (bullies, navigating the school system, romance, etc.).
However, I have to agree that some of the character development is non-existent. Some characters are so cliched, so empty and trite. The book is rushed at the climax and at the end, where the author speeds up a romance between a secondary character and Kimberly for...what?
This was actually the most obnoxious part of the book for me. It seemed to add unnecessary drama and was a weakly drawn parallel (we learn about Kimberly's successes in the future and the people she ends up leaving behind), plus a certain secret she keeps from a particular character in the end. I didn't buy the romance (plus the author brings in a third wheel who is also really brought in only at the climax and disappears soon after). I could understand the contrast Kwok was trying to draw with the futures of Kimberly and the other people she and her mom left behind, because my family has similar stories.
But it was so poorly done here with such an insulting epilogue that it is really grinding my gears. I think there is something actually "lost in translation" here: I'm not sure whether the author really conveyed some of the cultural differences well. These are implied when Kimberly and her mom interact with her mom's sister (aside from Kimberly learning how to navigate the school system, how to interact with teachers, etc.), but I suspect that the author was trying to communicate that via the epilogue by showing Kimberly and the American Dream vs. what the "American Dream" becomes for others in similar positions.
There was more potential here, although I thought it did do a good job for showing a slice of what some immigrants experience when they come to the US. I liked a lot of it but there could have been so much more and the ending seemed so pasted together.
I bought it but I'd recommend the library. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
I loved this story about 11-year-old Kimberly Chang and her “Ma” who came from Hong Kong to Brooklyn in search of a better life.

Kim’s wealthy Aunt Paula paid for their passage to America, and set them up in a roach and rat infested apartment in Brooklyn without heat. Ma went to work in the filthy garment factory owned by Aunt Paula’s husband, where Ma, like the others, was secretly paid by the piece, an illegal practice. Kim soon began helping her mother out after school, along with other children there illegally, who came to help their parents make their work quotas.

In spite of all the challenges, including no knowledge at first of the English language, Kim managed to excel in school, and soon got a full scholarship to a private school. But she kept up her friendship with a girl she met at her first school, Annette Avery, who also changed to the private school, and a boy she got to know in the factory, Matt Wu. She didn’t understand her feelings for Matt until they were older, and he started dating someone else: a beautiful Chinese girl named Vivian. But there was always something between them.

Kim decided that to get her and Ma out of their bad situation, she would simply have to work harder and longer than anyone else in school so she could get a good job someday. But she also had to learn to navigate the tricky waters of jealousy from the other kids, and from Aunt Paula. Her aunt not only held their immediate fate in her hands, but she resented that Kim did better than her own similarly-aged son Godfrey.

The very end of the book is an epilogue that begins twelve years after the first part ends, when Kim is in her senior year in high school.

Discussion: There is so much that is good about this book. The story of Kim and her ma is told with such affection and compassion for the characters by the author that you can’t help feeling the same. The other characters are drawn with an excellent eye, such as Kim’s first public school teacher - he is not such a good person, but unfortunately very typical of tired and frustrated teachers in poor public schools. Even the evil Aunt Paula is portrayed in a sufficiently nuanced manner that you understand why she acts the way she does, and you can feel sympathy for her, which is not easily accomplished with a character that nasty.

The author is so clever at helping us understand the threads that connected all the parts of Kim’s life. For example, at the factory, Kim and Ma were paid 1.5 cents per skirt bagged, and Kim started to calculate whether or not they could afford something 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 2,000 skirts.”

The author also rendered dialogue in a manner that showed in italics the words Kim didn’t understand at first, with the sentences gradually having less and less of these italicized words. As one example, when the principal of her public school talked to Kim about getting accepted at the better private school and the need for recommendations:

“‘I know of several good schools, if you should need some names,’ she said. . . . Do you want some recordy shunts?” [meaning recommendations].

We not only see what words Kim still didn’t know, but how they sounded to her. We also learn that often, she does not understand a word or concept because in her previous culture, practices were different. Illustrating this, there are a number of Chinese customs and sayings included in the story, all explained by our narrator Kim.

What was most interesting to me was that the biggest cultural conflict in the book is not between the Chinese and non-Chinese, but between two of the main Chinese protagonists, one of whom believes in the "old ways" and the other who is looking to the future.

Evaluation: I hope readers will not eschew reading this book because of reluctance to read about another culture they think may not be relevant to their own experiences. This book is first and foremost about the human condition and human emotions which we all share - love, hope, despair, jealousy, determination, and perseverance. The story is engaging and engrossing, and the experiences so seemingly true-to-life that I wasn’t too surprised to learn that a good bit of it was autobiographical. ( )
  nbmars | Oct 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
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.
Kwok adeptly captures the hardships of the immigrant experience and the strength of the human spirit to survive and even excel despite the odds.
added by khuggard | editLibrary Journal

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean Kwokprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wey, GrayceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Erwin, Stefan and Milan, and to the memory of my brother Kwan S. Kwok
First words
I was born with a talent. Not for dance, nor comedy, nor anything so delightful. I've always had a knack for school. Everything that was taught there, I could learn: quickly and without too much effort. It was as if school were a vast machine and I a cog perfectly formed to fit in it. This is not to say that my education was always easy for me. When Ma and I moved to the U.S., I spoke only a few words of English and for a very long time, I struggled.
What Annette didn't understand was that silence could be a great protector. I couldn't afford to cry when there was no escape. Talking about my problems would only illuminate the lines of my unhappiness in the cold light of day, showing me, as well as her, the things I had been able to bear only because they had been half hidden in the shadows. I couldn't expose myself like that, not even for her.
Brains are beautiful.
In those days, I wanted to believe our love was something tangible and permanent, like a good luck charm I could always wear around my neck. Now I know it was more like the wisp of smoke trailing off a stick of incense: most of what I could hold onto was the memory of the burning, the aftermath if its scent.
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Book description
Ah-Kim Chang and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn, where they work for Kim's Aunt Paula in a Chinatown clothing factory earning barely enough to keep them alive; however, Kim's perseverance and hard work earns her a place at an elite private school where she is befriended by Annette, who helps her adjust to American culture.
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Emigrating with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, Kimberly Chang begins a secret double life as an exceptional schoolgirl during the day and sweatshop worker at night, an existence also marked by her first crush and the pressure to save her family from poverty.… (more)

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