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Girl in Translation Paperback – May 3, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This audiobook is the perfect match of narrator and material. Grayce Wey's performance as immigrant Kimberly Chang feels absolutely authentic. As the adult Kimberly looking back at her life, Wey has just a touch of a Chinese accent (appropriate for a character who's lived in America for two decades), and her tone conveys bittersweet regret even while knowing she made the right choice. But when speaking as the younger, newly arrived Kimberly, Wey's Chinese accent is much heavier, and we can hear Kimberly's confusion, anxiety, and struggle to adjust to this new culture. Wey perfectly evokes Kimberly's growing assertiveness and determination, her teenage longing, joy, and pain when falling in love for the first time, and her conflicted feelings when making difficult decisions about her path in life. A moving and memorable listen. A Riverhead hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 15).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation speaks eloquently. Searing debut novel... poignant.”
— USA Today
"Kwok drops you right inside Kimberly's head, adding Chinese idioms to crisp dialogue. And the book's lesson--that every choice comes at the expense of something else--hits home in every language." — People Magazine
"Consistently compelling." — Entertainment Weekly
“Dazzling fiction debut.” — Marie Claire
"Part fairy tale, part autobiography... buoyant." — O, The Oprah Magazine
“Girl in Translation, the astonishing—and semi-autobiographical—tale of a girl from Hong Kong who, at eleven, shoulders the weight of her mother’s American Dream, from Chinatown sweatshop all the way to the Ivy League.” — Vogue
"Kimberly Chang, the girl in the title of Jean Kwok’s first novel, comes to New York from Hong Kong in the early 1980s with her mother, chasing a better life. Ms. Kwok, herself an immigrant, renders Kimberly’s confusion seemingly from the inside." — The New York Times
"Inspired by her own first hand experience of immigration, Kwok writes with quiet passion about the strange dichotomy of growing up surrounded by the glitz of New York, while being barely able to afford to eat.... irresistible power." — The Independent
“Warm and affecting… a compelling pleasure… manages that rare fictional feat of shifting forever the angle from which you look at the world.” — The Daily Mail
"Kwok thoughtfully pens a tale of the desperation and cruelty often faced by newcomers." — Bustle
“Infused with optimism and a can-do spirit.” — The Financial Times
“Compelling… an unforgettable story” — The Global Times
“Potent… a fresh, compelling take on the American success story.” — The Seattle Times
“Simple, searing, richly detailed prose… hilarious and wrenching. Immigrants, new and old, will find much to savor here, from the drama of family secrets to the confusing coming-of-age.” — Booklist
“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… more than just another immigrant story.” — Publishers Weekly
“Kwok adeptly captures the hardships of the immigrant experience and the strength of the human spirit to survive and even excel despite the odds. Reminiscent of An Na's award-winning work for younger readers, A Step from Heaven, this work will appeal to both adults and teens.”
— Library Journal
“In this moving story of hardship and triumph, a woman must live a double life as a scholar and a sweatshop worker after she emigrates from Hong Kong to America with her mother.” — The San Francisco Chronicle
“It is impossible not to fall under the spell of Girl in Translation’s tough, plucky narrator as she struggles to make a place for herself in America. Kwok is a natural storyteller who eloquently captures the difficulty of living in two worlds, and the quiet sadness of never feeling quite at home in either. This is an altogether captivating debut shot through with moments of humor and grace.” —Julie Otsuka, author of When the Emperor Was Divine
“A moving coming of age story, reminiscent of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The possibility of Kimberly Chang’s extraordinary struggle and achievement is what makes America a great nation—generous, forgiving and full of hope. Kwok perfectly captures the voice and perspective of a young immigrant, and the result is a powerful work about love, sacrifice and faith.” —Min Jin Lee, author of the bestselling Free Food for Millionaires
“A journey into a world that would otherwise be veiled, Girl in Translation contrasts both sacrifice and accomplishment in the most satisfying of ways. Kwok’s vibrant prose makes us live Kimberly’s life almost as if it were our own.” —Brunonia Barry, author of the bestselling The Lace Reader
“I love how this book allowed me to see my own country, with all its cruelty and kindness, from a perspective so different from my own. I love how it invited me into the heart and mind of Kimberly Chang, whose hard choices will resonate with anyone who has sacrificed for a dream. Powerful storytelling kept me turning the pages quickly, but Kimberly’s voice – so smart and clear - will stay with me for a long time.” —Laura Moriarty, author of The Center of Everything
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Various people enter their life but they keep very much to themselves, afraid of what others would think if they knew the true situation. At first Kimberly struggles in school with her limited English skills but she soon picks things up and shows herself to be the star student she was back in Hong Kong for science and math.
Meanwhile both she and her mom work in the sweatshop for the pittance they get paid. Their life is undeniably hard and there is a marked contrast between the way things are for them and what Kimberly sees in school. The scenes in the sweatshop are particularly disturbing and it is unsettling to say the least to know that this type of thing exists not only in the USA but all over the world.
As high school approaches Kimberly receives a scholarship to an exclusive private school. All is not perfect though as there is such a contrast between her impoverished life and the immaculate and sprawling landscaped school grounds and beautiful buildings. It is really the first time Kimberly feels that she can escape the life she's been living and sets the stage for the choices she will make for the future.
As Kimberly tries to balance the demands of a top notch private school with her work both at the school and at her aunt and uncles sweatshop one of the boys there becomes Kimberly's friend, later destined to be something else. To see how a young boy can grow up in that environment and struggle and work towards a better future is heartwarming.
Just when you think you know what will happen the ending has a huge twist. I won't spoil it other than to say I almost cried.
I adored this book. It was comfortable and, in spite of the tragic content in places, the author did a wonderful job of making you feel it without spending your reading time in abject misery. The characters are extremely rich and vibrant and interesting. The world introduced feels as foreign as China to me and it is hard, as I've noted, to reconcile the fact that this type of thing happens all the time within the America I grew up in.
I also really enjoyed the Chinese sayings interspersed throughout the book. Instead of saying you are ungrateful you say "your heart has no roots". Although Kimberly struggled with learning this "Chinese" (what was being said indirectly or in a different way) I really enjoyed it. It is a part of the culture that is so different than the direct American way.
Girl in Translation flows smoothly and Kimberly ages as you press on, waiting to see what will happen, where she will end up, and if she can escape her situation and have a bright future. As bright as she is was my hope for her. An enlightening story with an interesting cast. Highly recommended!
I would classify this novel a bildungsroman - a coming of age story where the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist from child to adulthood is measured in the great change of the main character. The novel depicts the true struggles of immigrants that come to this country NOT looking for a handout. And the truth of it is, it's hard. Very hard.
The novel shares the living conditions of the naive family as they attempt to make a life in America. They reside in a roach and rat infested apartment found for them by their jealous and superficial Aunt (who runs the sweat shop), where both Ma and Ah-Kimberly barely survive. There is no heat and they sleep under piles of clothing, mostly inadequate, for the harsh winters of Brooklyn. They make ends meet by eating small meals of rice, using their oven to provide heat in the small kitchen, and sewing blankets and clothes out of fabric they find in trash dumps.
The American schooling system is cruel and unforgiving for Ah-Kim. She certainly didn't come through the soft education system of the current times where everyone gets 1,000 chances to do everything, to pass everything. Her teachers, specifically the men, are mean and cruel. They mock her, accuse her of cheating when she does start to make progress, and shame her socially. The kids, well - they are American kids - disrespectful and indifferent to anyone that isn't like them. I cried the most reading about her schooling, especially when she was so young. It pained me, as a teacher, to read the way adults responded to her, to the way the other students treated her, to the indifference of the teacher to help her. But, like a truly intelligent girl, she beats the odds of the public elementary school system and is afforded an opportunity to go to a very private and prestigious private school.
Ah-Kimberly's climb to success is painful and scarred, which makes moments of triumph that much sweeter.
Jean Kwok paints an emotional journey of Ah-Kim and one the reader will not forget. I still feel tightness in my chest when I remember the struggles of this kind, hardworking family of two. I cried multiple times by chapter four, and the pull on the heart only increases as the reader becomes more involved with the story.
This is a book I highly recommend - in fact I'm going to request to teach this book next year in place of To Kill a Mockingbird - that is how strong of an impact it made on me. It gives insight to a different culture and I appreciated reading about the Asian sociodynamics rather than reading yet another book about the black/white dynamic in America. This opened my eyes to the depth and tradition long steeped within Asian communities. It was the perfect book to read after Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (link for this review - found after Reached by Allie Condy on the same post). I enjoyed the distinctness and diversity of the these two novels, both creating a respect for a culture outside of my own.
About the Author (from Amazon author page):
Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia.
Her debut novel Girl in Translation (Riverhead, 2010) became a New York Times bestseller. It has been published in 15 countries and chosen as the winner of an American Library Association Alex Award, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, an Orange New Writers title, an Indie Next Pick, a Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award nominee and the winner of Best Cultural Book in Book Bloggers Appreciation Week 2010. It was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. The novel was a Blue Ribbon Pick for numerous book clubs, including Book of the Month, Doubleday and Literary Guild. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two sons.
To learn more about Jean Kwok, you can visit her website at [...]