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Girl in Translation
Cover of Girl in Translation
Girl in Translation
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From the author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, the iconic, New York Times-bestselling debut novel that introduced an important Chinese-American voice with an inspiring story of an immigrant girl forced...
From the author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, the iconic, New York Times-bestselling debut novel that introduced an important Chinese-American voice with an inspiring story of an immigrant girl forced...
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  • From the author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, the iconic, New York Times-bestselling debut novel that introduced an important Chinese-American voice with an inspiring story of an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.
    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.
 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book prologue

    I was born with a talent. Not for dance, or comedy, or anything so delightful. I've always had a knack for school. Everything that was taught there, I could learn: quickly and without too much effort. It was as if school were a vast machine and I a cog perfectly formed to fit in it. This is not to say that my education was always easy for me. When Ma and I moved to the U.S., I spoke only a few words of English, and for a very long time, I struggled.

    There's a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown. I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions. And all the while, I have longed for that which I could not have. At the time when it seemed that everything I'd ever wanted was finally within reach, I made a decision that changed the trajectory of the rest of my life.

    From my position outside the window of the bridal shop now, I can see the little girl sitting quietly at the mannequin's feet, eyes shut, the heavy folds of falling fabric closing her in, and I think, This isn't the life I wanted for my child. I know how it will go: she already spends all of her time after school at the shop, helping with small tasks like sorting beads; later, she will learn to sew by hand and then on the machines until, finally, she can take over some of the embroidery and finishing work, and then she too will spend her days and weekends bent over the unending yards of fabric. For her, there will be no playing at friends' houses, no swimming lessons, no summers at the beach, not much of anything at all except for the unrelenting rhythm of the sewing needle.

    But then we both look up as her father walks in and after all these years and all that's passed, my heart stirs like a wounded animal in my chest.

    Was I ever as beautiful as she? There are almost no pictures of me as a child. We couldn't afford a camera. The first snapshot taken of me in the U.S. was a school photo, from the year I came to America. I was eleven. There came a moment later in my life when I wanted to move on, and I ripped this picture up. But instead of discarding the pieces, I tucked them away in an envelope.

    Recently, I found that envelope and brushed off the dust. I broke open the seal and touched the torn bits of paper inside: here was the tip of an ear, a part of the jaw. My hair had been cut by my mother, unevenly and too short, parted far to the right and swept over my forehead in a boy's hairstyle. The word PROOF covers much of my face and a part of my blue polyester shirt. We hadn't been able to pay for the actual photo, so we'd kept this sample they'd sent home.

    But when I join the ripped pieces of the photo and put together the puzzle, my eyes still gaze directly at the camera, their hope and ambition clear to all who care to look. If only I'd known.



    one

    A sheet of melting ice lay over the concrete. I watched my rubber boots closely, the way the toes slid on the ice, the way the heels splintered it. Ice was something I had known only in the form of small pieces in red bean drinks. This ice was wild ice, ice that defied streets and buildings.

    "We are so lucky that a spot in one of Mr. N.'s buildings opened up," Aunt Paula had said as we drove to our new neighborhood. "You will have to fix it up, of course, but real estate in New York is so expensive! This is very cheap for what you're getting."

    I could hardly sit still in the car and kept twisting my head, looking...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 15, 2010
    A resolute yet naïve Chinese girl confronts poverty and culture shock with equal zeal when she and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn in Kwok's affecting coming-of-age debut. Ah-Kim Chang, or Kimberly as she is known in the U.S., had been a promising student in Hong Kong when her father died. Now she and her mother are indebted to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who funded their trip from Hong Kong, so they dutifully work for her in a Chinatown clothing factory where they earn barely enough to keep them alive. Despite this, and living in a condemned apartment that is without heat and full of roaches, Kimberly excels at school, perfects her English, and is eventually admitted to an elite, private high school. An obvious outsider, without money for new clothes or undergarments, she deals with added social pressures, only to be comforted by an understanding best friend, Annette, who lends her makeup and hands out American advice. A love interest at the factory leads to a surprising plot line, but it is the portrayal of Kimberly's relationship with her mother that makes this more than just another immigrant story.

  • Kirkus

    March 15, 2010
    An iteration of a quintessential American myth—immigrants come to America and experience economic exploitation and the seamy side of urban life, but education and pluck ultimately lead to success.

    Twelve-year-old Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong and feel lucky to get out before the transfer to the Chinese. Because Mrs. Chang's older sister owns a garment factory in Brooklyn, she offers Kimberly's mother—and even Kimberly—a"good job" bagging skirts as well as a place to live in a nearby apartment. Of course, both of these"gifts" turn out to be exploitative, for to make ends meet Mrs. Chang winds up working 12-hour–plus days in the factory. Kimberly joins her after school hours in this hot and exhausting labor, and the apartment is teeming with roaches. In addition, the start to Kimberly's sixth-grade year is far from prepossessing, for she's shy and speaks almost no English, but she turns out to be a whiz at math and science. The following year she earns a scholarship to a prestigious private school. Her academic gifts are so far beyond those of her fellow students that eventually she's given a special oral exam to make sure she's not cheating. (She's not.) Playing out against the background of Kimberly's fairly predictable school success (she winds up going to Yale on full scholarship and then to Harvard medical school) are the stages of her development, which include interactions with Matt, her hunky Chinese-American boyfriend, who works at the factory, drops out of school and wants to provide for her; Curt, her hunky Anglo boyfriend, who's dumb but sweet; and Annette, her loyal friend from the time they're in sixth grade. Throughout the stress of adolescence, Kimberly must also negotiate the tension between her mother's embarrassing old-world ways and the allurement of American culture.

    A straightforward and pleasant, if somewhat predictable narrative, marred in part by an ending that too blatantly tugs at the heartstrings.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2010
    Living in squalor among rats and roaches in a virtually abandoned unheated apartment building in Brooklyn, NY, 11-year-old Kimberly Chang narrates how, after recently immigrating from Hong Kong, she and her mother strive to eke out a life together working in an illegally run sweat shop. Though she was once the top-ranked pupil in her class in Hong Kong, Kimberly's English skills are so limited that she must struggle to keep up in school while still translating for her mother and attempting to hide the truth of her living situation from her well-to-do classmates and only true friend, Annette. Drawing on her own experiences as an immigrant from Hong Kong (though she herself went to Harvard and Columbia, while Kimberly earns a spot at Yale), Kwok adeptly captures the hardships of the immigrant experience and the strength of the human spirit to survive and even excel despite the odds. VERDICT Reminiscent of An Na's award-winning work for younger readers, "A Step from Heaven", this work will appeal to both adults and teens and is appropriate for larger public libraries, especially those serving large Asian American populations.Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. Lib., Santa Ana, CA

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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