Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Girl in Translation: by Jean Kwok (Hey It's Fiction February again!)

Welcome readers to my second annual tribute to fiction offered for the month of February.  As last year, if you comment about a recent  favorite novel or work of fiction on this blog, I will enter you into a drawing to win a free book!!!  That's right, from my very own library.

This book was recommended to me by a fellow reader who knows I am very interested in Chinese American literature.  I put it on my library list and renewed it a few times but am pleased to have read it. 

Kimberly Chang and her mother arrive in the US from China owing a huge debt to their benefactors (Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob) who keep them in an unheated rodent infested apartment in Brooklyn and force mother to work in their sweatshop to pay them back.  Kimberly goes to school but must rush to the factory after school to help her mother finish the shipment of clothing.  It is a grim life which is slowly redeemed for Kimberly by her prowess in school.  In spite of her many hardships and the inevitable language barriers, she begins to distinguish herself in school, specifically math and science and is able to earn a scholarship to a prestigious prep school.

The novel follows Kim and her mother through school until she graduates when Kimberly faces a very grim and unhappy choice which we don't really get to see her make except in an epilogue of sorts which takes place 12 years after the end of school.

A reader will immediately be drawn into this book.  Kimberly's voice is plain and true and very compelling. The author has a great way of helping the reader try to understand how hard it is for Kimberly to understand what is happening to her by translating some of the English dialogue into the chopped up strange speech that Kimberly might hear.

The descriptions of her hard life in the sweatshop, struggles in school and in the horrible apartment are well done.  I am glad to have read this for that reason alone.  If you read this and then understand from the book flap that Jean Kwok was also an immigrant from Hong Kong and worked in the sweatshops and went to Harvard then you will also want to visit her website and read her own story which is equally compelling.

My one gripe with the story was the ending I which felt very trite and unfitting.  If you read this let me know what you think.

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