Do you know what makes me happy? When I discover a gem of a book by a new author. “Girl in Translation’ was exactly that for me.
I grabbed this book from the new release shelf at the library on an impulse. I liked the cover and I enjoy reading of Asian cultures and immigrant experiences. This novel, from new author Jean Kwok, was the compelling and wonderful story of Kimberly Chang and her mother as they immigrate to America from Hong Kong and work to assimilate into the new culture while supporting themselves through work at a sweat shop. Though they rely on the “assistance” of Kimberly’s aunt and uncle for a place to live and a job, their life is pretty miserable, as they work (illegally) doing piece work for pay (illegally) and live (illegally) in a vacant apartment with no heat or hot water through New York City’s winters. Kimberly, a brilliant student – though only in sixth grade, works to learn English and do well in school, with the goal of getting an education and getting a better life for her and her mother. Afternoons and evenings she works at her aunt’s sweat shop (as I mentioned illegally) with her mother. There she meets a young Chinese boy, Matt, who becomes her friend and first love.
Kimberly and her mother are tenacious and hard-working. Living in these deplorable conditions (supplied by the “helpful” aunt) while they strive to make a better life, I couldn’t help but be angered by what they had to endure. After Kimberly is accepted to a prestigious private school on full scholarship, things start to change for them. Eventually, she is accepted to Yale, though this causes her to have to make a heart-breaking decision.
I loved this book. It reminded me of a Lisa See novel (one of my fave authors!) in the style of Gish Jen (another awesome writer!). I love reading of Asian culture and tradition and I always appreciate the immigrant experience as I am a grand-daughter of immigrants. I couldn’t read this book without cheering for Kimberly to succeed. I’m so glad I picked it up, and I look forward to more great books from Jean Kwok!
I have attached a You Tube link (hopefully it works okay – I’m not the most technically minded) of Ms. Kwok discussing her novel: