Girl in Translation: Dipping Into a New Culture

BlogHer Review

I was born an American citizen. I grew up on a farm, wanting for nothing. My tummy was always full. I had toys to play with. I received a good education with teachers who really cared about me. My home was warm in the winter, cool in the summer. I was surrounded by my parents and extended family who engulfed me in love. Yet I never realized, until I read Girl in Translation, written by Jean Kwok, how really blessed I really was.

The main characters of Girl in Translation are Kimberly Chang and her mother. They come to America, to New York, to start a new life. Kimberly’s Aunt Paula promises to take care of them, if by taking care you mean living in an almost-condemned apartment in Brooklyn and employing them in her husband’s Chinatown sweatshop. Kim is determined to rise above this and provide for her mother, so she turns to the only thing she knows -- her own academic ability. Through the book, she learns much about American customs and beliefs, and also much about herself.

This book is beautifully written. The second I opened the book and started reading, Jean Kwok transported me to New York City. I was horrified when she described the apartment Kim and her mother were forced to live in. I felt the confusion Kim felt on her first day of school, not understanding anything she was expected to know in her new classroom. I had shivers going up and down my spine, reading about the roaches and mice that walked over Kim and her mother while they slept. And I was enraged when I learned of the wages in the sweatshop -- 1.5 cents per skirt.

As an American-born citizen, I found this book completely fascinating. I felt for the first time what it must feel like to be a new resident of this country, how completely confusing and strange our own customs must appear to be. Having moved myself a number of times, I know how hard it can be to adjust to a new city. But having to adjust to a new culture? That is something completely different.

I highly recommend Girl in Translation. Not only is it an engaging story, but there are many lessons to be learned within its pages. It’s a book you’ll be unable to put down, and one you’ll be very glad that you’ve read. I know I am.


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