Girl in Translation: A Break From My World
With Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok could be a travel agent. She has that knack, as an author, of letting a reader travel out of their own skin and into another time, place and experience. The joy of reading good fiction is the ability to, in a small way, live a piece of life that I otherwise could not.
Girl in Translation set my mind firmly down into the life of Kimberly Chang, a young girl recently immigrated to New York City. Kwok's deft use of words let me experience with Kimberly the shame of being a foreign girl in a new school. I cringed when Kimberly and her mother battled roaches and vermin in their low rent apartment. My heart broke at their cruel treatment at the hands of Kimberly's aunt. I even felt the pride and triumph Kimberly must have felt when she surmounted all the obstacles.
Girl in Translation isn't just a good story though. Kwok's semi-autobiographical tale takes us into a part of America that most of us prefer to think does not exist -- illegal sweatshops. Kimberly's mother works alongside other immigrants (some legal, some not) for long, hard days in hazardous conditions. This job is so far beneath Mrs. Chang who was a musician in Hong Kong. With large debts to pay and no English though, she has little choice.
The descriptions of the hot, arduous work -- often done by Kimberly and other children gave me insight into a world that I've only heard about. Kwok's words let me feel what it must be like to live in such desperate conditions.
No good book is complete without a love story woven in. Kimberly's journey with fellow immigrant Matt was wonderfully told. On the surface, they seem to have so much in common: poverty, immigration, single parent households, jobs in the factory. Yet they truly are so different. Kimberly is cerebral and on an academic track. Matt is hard working and has to drop out of school to care for his family. As a reader I was rooting for them and yet...
Well, I hate to spoil a good story and Girl in Translation is indeed a good story.