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Girl in Translation Paperback – May 3, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 399 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Review

“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 


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594485151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594485152
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (399 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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