Girl in Translation: New York Through the Eyes of Kimberly Chang

BlogHer Review

Girl in Translation is the kind of book I can't get enough of. I was fortunate enough to receive the book before a three day weekend because I might have had to call in sick in order to finish reading it. Jean KwokGirl in Translation spins the reader in to the world of a Chinese immigrant as we identify with the struggles of Kimberly.

The first time we meet Kimberly we are mortified to learn that she and her mother are forced to live in a bug infested, windowless, abandoned apartment building with no heat. As the book unravels we learn of Kimberly's struggles to in school and the near indentured servant life her mother lives working in the factory to pay off travel debts and rent.

Kimberly describes her struggles in school, to understand English, to get along with other students and her bewilderment at American customs. Along the way she throws in some Chinese expressions such as the insult of calling someone a "crazy melon", these cultural tidbits help us understand her better and endear her to us.

I live in San Francisco, a city that is over 40% Chinese so this book made perfect sense to me. I feel like I've seen Kimberly walking down Clement in new Chinatown. I've certainly run in to her mother, the middle aged Chinese woman who still does not speak English even after living in the US for many years.

Kimberly and her mother remind me of my Chinese friends and help me understand them. One of my friends likes to say that her daughter attracts boys like "flies to a horses butt". Kimberly throws in sayings like that telling us of her mother lamenting that, "everything in you gets spoken right out", in reference to Kimberly being too honest.

Girl in Translation is rich with culture and tradition interwoven through the immigrants struggle to adapt to life in a new country. While I loved the language and descriptiveness, it started to feel rather pithy towards the end. Like maybe Jean Kwok had been in too big a hurry to finish the book and made Kimberly a little too perfect and the story too predictable. I'm left hoping that Jean Kwok's life was more interesting than Kimberly's.

Yet I loved the book. I loved Kimberly the child and grew slightly disenchanted with her as a teenager progressing to nearly dislike her as an adult. But she had me every step of the way. I look forward to seeing what else Jean Kwok writes in the future.

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