Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Riverhead, April 29, 2010), 304 pages
Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. They don’t speak English and they’re beholden to the relatives that helped them make the journey. Kimberly is a very intelligent girl — math and science come easiest in her new environment. Her mother, in Hong Kong, was an accomplished musician. Their only ticket out of their unforeseen but deplorable situation is Kimberly’s education.
This multicultural, coming-of-age story is set in New York City. Chinatown, sweatshop. The juxtaposition of Kimberly Chang’s school world and her work/home world is stark, saddening. I don’t always like coming-of-age stories, but this one, with its many other factors in its favor, is a winner.
Girl in Translation is absorbing, I was caught up in the story and the world before the first chapter ended. It’s delightful and painful and vivid.
I love the characters, I love the story, I love the writing. Such a great book!
One of my favorite aspects of the book is how Kwok helps the reader understand, in little bits, what it’s like to feel illiterate by representing phonetically other speakers’ poorly enunciated words. For example, on page 24 [of an uncorrected proof], when Kimberly arrives at her school for the first time:
We showed her the letter from the school. “Go downda hall, two fights up, classroom’s firsdur left,” she said, pointing.
I love this!
Oh, this is just a great book. I know I’m gushing, but I don’t feel like I’m going too far; this book deserves gushing. Read an excerpt of Girl in Translation.
About the author
Jean Kwok (Kwok’s blog, @JeanKwok) was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn as a child. She received her bachelor’s from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia. After working as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Kwok now writes full-time.
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I received this book from the publisher.