Girl in Translation: The Art of Self-Sacrifice
Have you ever wondered why your life turned out the way it did? What would have happened if you'd made a few decisions differently? Would you be happier than you are now? Are we all propelled by fate?
Jean Kwok sets out to take a stab at some of these questions in her book, Girl in Translation. We follow Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrate to New York from Hong Kong. They've left everything they know for a chance to make a better life for themselves, but all of their hopes and dreams are dashed from the moment they step into their run down, should-be-condemned apartment. Kimberly is forced to grow up far more rapidly than any of her peers and takes it upon herself to try and do all that she can with her gift of learning to create a better life for her and her mother, even if those choices are contrary to what her heart wants.
One of the things I loved about this book was learning that Kwok also immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl. It made the story that much more poignant and real knowing she'd pulled from her own experiences. I loved the way she puts you in Kimberly's shoes, or rather, her head by letting you see what it would be like learning English and mishearing and misunderstanding words. You get to see her improve her English as the misinterpreted words become few and far in between as the book progresses.
Besides Kimberly being forced to grow up quickly (I can hardly understand tax forms now and can’t imagine trying to understand them as a young immigrant girl!), you also see how mature she is naturally. I greatly admire their culture, how deeply they respect their elders, even if their elders seem undeserving of that respect, such as her Aunt Paula. Kimberly puts her mother first, making excuses to sleep on the outside of their mattress so her mother would be further from the mice and rats she hates so much, saying “These were the small graces we bestowed upon each other then. They were all we had to give.”
Later on, Kimberly’s choices are far more difficult with much longer-lasting repercussions. In the end she knows in her heart she made the correct decisions for her and her mother, even if those decisions also hurt those she loves. It was not the way she’d imagined her life going. Kimberly’s mother comforts her and says, “You may need to change your dreams... sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.”
And this is something that I think so many people, even with all of our varied backgrounds and life experiences, can relate with.