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Girl in Translation Hardcover – April 29, 2010

369 customer reviews

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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A resolute yet naïve Chinese girl confronts poverty and culture shock with equal zeal when she and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn in Kwok's affecting coming-of-age debut. Ah-Kim Chang, or Kimberly as she is known in the U.S., had been a promising student in Hong Kong when her father died. Now she and her mother are indebted to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who funded their trip from Hong Kong, so they dutifully work for her in a Chinatown clothing factory where they earn barely enough to keep them alive. Despite this, and living in a condemned apartment that is without heat and full of roaches, Kimberly excels at school, perfects her English, and is eventually admitted to an elite, private high school. An obvious outsider, without money for new clothes or undergarments, she deals with added social pressures, only to be comforted by an understanding best friend, Annette, who lends her makeup and hands out American advice. A love interest at the factory leads to a surprising plot line, but it is the portrayal of Kimberly's relationship with her mother that makes this more than just another immigrant story. (May)
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Review

Warm, affecting, a compelling pleasure. Manages that rare fictional feat of shifting forever the angle from which you look at the world Daily Mail A sensitively handled rites-of-passage account ... has the unmistakable ring of authenticity Metro Deceptively delicate ... the stumbling endurance of Kimberley, the bond between mother and daughter, and the clever use of Chinese culture and tradition make for more than a salutary read Guardian Incredibly honest and powerful, written with unflinching directness ... a truly amazing story that'll leave you full of admiration and affection for the characters Easy Living Engagingly narrated, irresistible Independent Astonishing Vogue --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (April 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487561
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487569
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (369 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling author of the award-winning novels Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in 17 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She has been selected for many honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers. Jean's writing has been featured in Time, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, People, Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.

Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood while living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment. In between her undergraduate degree at Harvard and MFA in fiction at Columbia, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats, and is working on her next novel.

Learn more about Jean here:
www.jeankwok.com
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www.twitter.com/JeanKwok

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Girl in Translation is a coming of age story that intertwines what it means to be an immigrant with the values of family, a sense of duty, and hope for the future. Kimberly and her mother find themselves in New York looking for a better future than the life they'd known in Hong Kong. They are, unfortunately, at the mercy of Kimberly's aunt and uncle as they are quite indebted to them for arranging green cards and for taking care of medical bills for Kimberly's mom (who has had TB) as well as paying for their accommodations to New York.

When the story starts Kimberly is a middle school age girl who speaks and reads some English but not enough to create any real level of understanding of her surroundings. Her mother speaks almost no English. They've just arrived and their mother's sister (herself with a story that I won't spoil) has arranged an apartment and a job. The apartment is a heat-less, roach and rodent infested slum tenancy, and the job working at a sweatshop making pennies for long hours. The Chinese culture is front and center here and it is interesting to understand why Kimberly and her mom would agree to these conditions. The sense of duty, of obligation, runs strong - and they have very little other options and no choices. It certainly brought me back to stories my grandparents talked about as immigrants themselves and how they arrived in America and the struggles they faced. I think many of us have lost this sense of our past, of the struggles of our ancestors and how it really was when you arrived at Ellis Island (or how it could be)

As time passes they manage by making noises to frighten the various other non human tenants of their apartment and tape garbage bags to the broken window panes.
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66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By sun2008 on June 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had some ambivalence about this book at first, and mostly read it out of curiosity because it received such great reviews. The ambivalence was due to similarities between my own life and the character's - I am Asian, I immigrated to the US when I was thirteen, my previously well educated and professional parents became rough laborers, we were poor, I strugged with language and assimilation, and went on to two Ivy Leagues. So I thought: what can this book possibly tell me? Should there be such books to further the stereotype of the Chinese immigrant, who came to the U.S. poverty stricken and struggle to become doctors and lawyers? I chose to read it for two reasons: curiosity, and the fact that the author gave up science to become a writer and obtain and MFA - not very Chinese. I realized she must have had guts to risk the more certain path of a structured profession, for a career in writing. So I gave it a go. In the end, I do have to admit that I am probably a biased reader. Having had first hand experiences quite similar to the character's, there were times when I broke down while reading the book. It uncovered a lot of wounds and shame that I thought had gone away. I relived many painful moments which had been forgotten or buried away, and reminded me of who I was. Again, I realize this comes from a very specific perspective, but for having reacquainted me with an old sad self, I give it five stars.
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102 of 118 people found the following review helpful By booksandbliss VINE VOICE on July 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the story and I did finish it with some feeling of attachment to the main character.

Having said that, I think the author treated the adolescent immigrant experience a bit too superficially for the story to have been truly satisfying. I compare the story to Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, another 1st person autobiographical but fictional account of a teenager trying to fit into a "foreign" culture, and Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, and wish that Girl in Translation could've read as deeply as those two books. I also write this with personal knowledge of the Chinese immigrant experience - my mother too worked in a garment factory and we lived in a roach-infested apartment, had to rely on doing well in school to get out of poverty, etc. - but I didn't feel that this story captured the deeper issues that come along with growing up in such an environment. The book focused too much on the poverty (way too many descriptions of the cold apartment and roaches and rats) and Kimberly's academic performance. When I was growing up I struggled alot with identity issues (cultural; familial (my role in the family since as a child I was given adult responsibility)), idealism (the painfully disappointing realization that my life was different from that of my American friends), a sense of not belonging anywhere (feeling neither Chinese nor American), resentment against my parents, the very people who were sacrificing for me (for being expected to be the adult, for being pushed to excel at school without emotional support) and guilt (for wanting freedom, hating my life, not respecting my parents (because I started to look down on them for needing me), wanting to be American), etc.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Readerly VINE VOICE on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As good as advertised - I read it in one night; couldn't put it down.

Kwok's writing is clear and touching - I loved the way she used and then simply translated Chinese idioms to remind us of the different mindset Kimberly and her mother had. Her explanation of the struggles over the simplest things were so touching - how missing only a few words kept Kimberly lost in school, the assumptions her teachers made about her ability to do things like create posters ("with what supplies"?) or watch the evening news made me question things I have seen in schools, and the assumptions many of us make about the lives of those around us. Kimberly's friend Annette's discussion with her father and decision that Kimberly must be lying about working in a sweatshop because "kids don't work in factories in America" made me question the provenance of every item of clothing in my closet. Deeply, deeply, affecting.

The last quarter or so of the book, when Kimberly and Matt's relationship becomes deeper, was where Kwok lost me. I won't say more for fear of spoilers, but I felt that she acted out of character and plot decisions were made for unnecessary drama. The epilogue was sappy and overdone.

Those things, however, don't diminish the excellence of most of the book. This novel genuinely challenged me to think differently, and that's a rarity.
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