Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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.

Other reviews
Booking Mama
Devourer of Books
Medieval Bookworm
The Book Nest
Capricious Reader
Redlady’s Reading Room
Reading Extravaganza
Novel Whore

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I received this book from the publisher.


10 responses to “Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

  1. Bibliophile By the Sea

    This sounds really great. I am anxious to find some time to read this one. Great review.

  2. I”m glad to hear you liked this. I really want to read it, but other certain influences didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. 🙂

  3. I can’t wait to read this one! I need to get to it soon.

  4. I loved this book too! I agree with you that Kwok did a wonderful job explaining the language barriers. I found myself laughing at the confusion and feeling so guilty since it’s a real problem. I also was really impacted by Kimberly judging prices by the number of skirts it would cost. I reviewed GIRL IN TRANSLATION on my blog here:

  5. I am glad to read another great review of this book. I need to pick up a copy.

  6. I have this waiting on my to-review shelf – I need to get to it soon! Great review. 🙂

  7. I agree–this book totally needs gushing! I’m linking your review on my review.

  8. Pingback: Best reads 2010 | Word Lily

  9. Pingback: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok – August 2011 | Contemporary Fiction Book Club

  10. Pingback: Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation (Uncorrected Proof) « Jorie's Reads

What do you think? I'd love to know.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s