on April 29th 2010
Published by Riverhead
Setting: New York
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
This book is heartbreaking. From the beginning you just want to hug these characters and beat up anyone who wants to harm them. It is immediately obvious that the author is writing about her life. The details that are included about living in extreme poverty in a condemned building while relying on an illegal job that pays pennies for piecework have to come from lived experience and not research.
I was ready to fight the evil Aunt who oh so generously brings her little sister and niece to the U.S. and then knowingly dumps them in these conditions. She pretends to be helping them SO MUCH out of the KINDNESS OF HER HEART while leaving them in a building with no heat. She underpays them and then manages to steal back a lot of the money they earned. She needed somebody to whup her.
Even people who were nice to them did not have the ability to understand what was happening to them. One of her friends started to see but asked her wealthy parents and was assured that she must have the situation confused because no one lives like that.
This is a story that anyone who thinks that immigrants get handed new lives in the United States needs to read. This is a story that wealthy people who think that children and poor people don’t work dangerous jobs that defy labor laws in the U.S. need to read.