Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation

By (author) Jean Kwok

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Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures. When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. Through Kimberly's story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, "Girl in Translation" is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation. Watch a Video

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  • Hardback | 293 pages
  • 157.48 x 233.68 x 30.48mm | 498.95g
  • 29 Apr 2010
  • Riverhead Books
  • New York, NY
  • English
  • 1594487561
  • 9781594487569
  • 575,586

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Author Information

Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn as a young girl. Jean received her bachelor's degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in Fiction at Columbia. She worked as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and now writes full-time. She has been published in "Story Magazine" and "Prairie Schooner."

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Review quote

"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." -"San Francisco Chronicle" "At age 5, Kwok moved with her family from Hong Kong to a New York City slum. . . . She has spun some of her experiences into this involving debut. . . . 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 any language." -"People" (3 1/2 stars) "Writing in first-person from Kim's point of view, Kwok cleverly employs phonetic spellings to illustrate her protagonist's growing understanding of English and wide-eyed view of American teen culture. The author draws upon her own experience as a child laborer in New York, which adds a poignant layer to "Girl in Translation."" -"USA Today" "Though the plot may sound mundane -t

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Customer reviews

Compelling and engrossing, a must-read!

Deeply moving and heart-wrenching, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an intriguing and poignant semi-autobiographical story of a Chinese girl and her mother struggling to build their life from the ground up in Brooklyn, NY. With the help from Aunt Paula, Kimberly and her mom are able to leave Hong Kong and move to New York, in hope of finding a better life there. When they arrive in America, Kimberly is only 11 years old and neither she nor her mother can speak any English. Kimberly's mom feels greatly indebted to her older sister, who paid for her expensive tuberculosis treatment and lent them money for the plane tickets. Aunt Paula, who moved to US after marrying an American man, is now a well established sweatshop owner. To repay the debts to her relatives, Kim's mom starts working at her sister's factory. She soon realizes that meeting the unbearably strict deadlines won't be possible if she works alone, and so she asks her daughter for help. Kim starts coming to the factory straight from school and the two of them work exhausting shifts till late night hours. They return to their flat only to get few hours of sleep. Their workplace conditions are grueling and inhumane, but the apartment they go back to after work is even worse. Infested with roaches and mice, with broken windows, cracked walls and paint flaked off in most of the places, without heating and hot water, the place they're forced to live in offers no comfort and no protection whatsoever. Their living conditions are abominable, but until they pay off their debts there is no hope of finding a better place, and so they patiently endure the cold and the vermin. Kimberly attends school, but with her limited English abilities the first few months there are a constant struggle. Discouraged by both her classmates and her teacher's initially negative and bullying attitude, Kim comes close to giving up her school carrier. For almost a week, afraid of being misunderstood and laughed at, she skips classes and hides out in the freezing-cold and damp apartment. It doesn't take long, though, for Kimberly to realize that this is not a permanent solution to her problems. She is aware of the fact that her and her mom's future depends directly on her succeeding at school and making a career for herself. Kim takes upon herself the responsibility of being the breadwinner (or should I say "ricewinner") for her family and she makes herself a promise, that she will take care of her mother as best as she can. Thanks to her determination and hard work, Kimberly earns a spot and a full scholarship at an exclusive high school. This, however, is not yet the end of the story, as she will still have some very hard decisions to make. These very important decisions will determine the course of her life. * Girl in Translation is a truly phenomenal semi-memoir and coming-of-age story. I absolutely loved it. It's written with a simple, yet beautiful language that speaks right to your heart. The phoneticization of English phrases unfamiliar to Kimberly allows you to experience the language barrier for yourself. Deeply compelling and engrossing, it's a book to savor, not one to quickly read and forget. It's the kind of book that makes you reflect on your own life and how it compares to the life of others. It deals with so many important issues, like child labor, racial discrimination, bullying, alienation, poverty, worker abuse and many, many more. Through the passages of this book we become vividly aware of the terrible realities of life and labor of Chinese immigrants. The images that Jean Kwok paints with her words shatter the myth of the American Dream. She vividly depicts all the challenges and hardships that Kimberly and her mother are forced to face while they're trying their best to make a place for themselves in United States. And to think that this book was in some part based on Jean Kwok's personal experiences just breaks my heart. Meaningful and moving, Girl in Translation is a wonderful eye-opener!show more
by Evie

You must read this book!

When Kimberly Chang and her widowed mother move to New York from Hong Kong, they are heavily in debt and dependent on her aunt for housing and employment. The adjustment is tough - she'd previously at the top of her class in Hong Kong and well loved but now finds herself looked at with suspicion by her new teacher Mr. Bogart. Kimberly doesn't let Mr. Bogart's disdain keep her down. Her days brighten when she makes friends of her own: Matt, another Chinese kid working at the garments factory, and Annette, a friendly girl in her class in school who shares her sense of humor. The details of Kimberly's life would be depressing but for Kimberly's attitude and spirit. Kimberly and her mother have each other and when they're together, the smallest things cheer them up and give them hope. Living in a condemned and rodent infested apartment without heat, the two Changs somehow make it through. As Kimberly slowly finds ways to improve their situation, you'll find yourself touched by this story of sacrifice, love, loyalty, and perseverance. I loved Girl in Translation - Kimberly's story and her voice stayed with me long after I finished the book. I've been fortunate to find a lot of good books in the last year, but this one stands out. ISBN-10: 1594487561 - Hardcover Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 29, 2010), 304 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.show more
by Gaby @ Starting Fresh