Girl in Translation: Kimberly's Path Changed My Mind

BlogHer Review

I’ll be honest -- I wasn’t eager to read another story about a first-generation immigrant assimilating into American culture, which is the subject of Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation. It’s a story that has been told before (The Joy Luck Club, The Namesake, etc.) and a story that I have read before. Enjoyable and teachable, yes, but overdone? Maybe.

Opening a book with low expectations is not a great way to sit back and relax to the written word. But that’s just what I did.

We meet Kimberly and her mother just after they have arrived in New York City. Neither speaks a significant amount of English and the only relative they have in the city is determined to see them fail. Kimberly’s mother begins working in a sweatshop while Kimberly struggles to navigate the world of the less than stellar New York City public school system. They live in the projects in an apartment that is crawling with roaches, has no heat and a barely working oven. Their situation is bleak, leaving us to wonder how they will ever get ahead.

While their day to day living situation feels, at times, infinitely broken, what they do have going for them is their work ethic and eternal hope that things will improve. Kimberly’s near-genius ability in mathematics and her mother’s diligence at the factory, despite poverty level wages and horrible work conditions prevail; and are what ultimately pulls them out of their squalor and into a better world.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm at the get-go, I found myself really enjoying this book. It was extremely readable; the story moves along at a good pace with enough detail to give the reader an accurate feel of what the characters went through to survive those early years in America.

And while the subject has been told before, Kwok focuses on Kimberly’s struggle to find her way in a new culture rather than the parent/child cultural clash that so many other authors have zeroed in on. This is a story of Kimberly’s path, her struggle to fit in, her struggle to find a better life for her and her mother. I will admit to having the luxury of reading this book on a beach and it did not disappoint as a vacation page-turner. It was truly a joy to follow and root for Kimberly Chang on her journey to adulthood.

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