Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: Girl in Translation

Summary: 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. -- Riverhead

Part of the reason I decided to host the 2010 Summer EW Book Challenge is because I am addicted to Entertainment Weekly magazine. It's one of my go-to sources for book reviews, and I have to tell you that they rarely lead me wrong. And in the case of GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok, they definitely recommended a wonderful book. I absolutely adored this story from the very first page to the last, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of my summer favorites!

I can't really say that I was surprised by how much I liked this novel. I love books about other cultures, especially Chinese; and I adore coming-of-age stories. So I pretty much expected to like this novel. But what did surprise me is how touched I was by Kimberly's (and her mother's) story. I guess I realized that it would be difficult to come to a new country and learn a new language and a new culture; however, this book really demonstrated to me how incredibly difficult it would be as well as how strong the individuals are who make the transition. I honestly was blown away by Kimberly's story and how much it affected me. GIRL IN TRANSLATION is really one of those books that makes you think (and think and think...) -- and that's always a sign to me of a very special book. I would even go so far as to say that this novel changed the way I see myself and my place in the world -- i.e. what it means to be an American. Reading GIRL IN TRANSLATION was that powerful of an experience for me!

Without a doubt what caused me to love this book the most was the character of Kimberly. The novel was written in her first person voice and she was such a wonderful character. I loved seeing how much Kimberly changed throughout the novel. She really went from being a scared little girl who didn't know the language to an intelligent, strong woman who demonstrated what it takes to be a true survivor. To her credit, she overcame the odds and proved that with hard work, determination, skill, and lots of hope, she still could turn her and her mother's life around.

I also really loved Kimberly's mother, and I really appreciated their relationship. It was evident that both loved each other deeply, and they continually made sacrifices and tried to protect the other one. Kimberly's mother never really did manage to learn the language and as a result, she wasn't able to fully integrate into the American culture. However, Kimberly did her best to help her mother in so many ways. I especially liked how the author demonstrated that they each had to depend on each other for survival, and how they both had assume the "grown-up" role at different times.

As much as I loved GIRL IN TRANSLATION (and I really did love it!), I think my appreciation of the novel increased even more after I visited Jean Kwok's website. The entire time I was reading this book, I felt as if the story could be a true one. When I discovered that much of Kimberly's story was taken from the pages of Ms. Kwok's own life, it literally took my breath away. To overcome so much hardship like Kimberly (and Ms. Kwok) did is amazing, and I loved the message of survival and hope that resonated in this novel. Ms. Kwok is not only a very gifted writer, but she is also an incredible woman on so many levels.

GIRL IN TRANSLATION is absolutely perfect for book clubs! The story is interesting, the writing is fantastic, and the characters are very complex -- all ideal things for a book club discussion. There is a reading guide available which could help supplement your discussion, but I'm not sure you'd even need one! There is also a wonderful Q&A with the author that enhanced my enjoyment of the book. Some of the topics you can further explore include love, dedication, sacrifice, perseverance, first love, abuse, secrets, new beginnings, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and staying true to one's self.

If you are interested in multi-cultural books or coming-of age stories, then GIRL IN TRANSLATION is a must-read! It is one of those books that will not only entertain you, but if you are anything like me, it will also deeply touch your heart.

By the way, I've read two very good books so far for the 2010 Summer EW Book Challenge and I just started another winner. These 18 books seem like they are all special in their own way, and I guarantee that you will find quite a few that tempt you. It's not too late to sign-up for this no pressure challenge -- minimum requirement is one book!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.



glad to hear you liked it its one of my picks for your challenge :) I just got a nook and a gift card! going to buy it now !

Diane said...

Julie...this sounds wonderful; everyone review I've read seemed very positive. Great review.

Beth F said...

If you had said nothing but "GIRL IN TRANSLATION is really one of those books that makes you think (and think and think...)" I would have added it my list, but knowing that it is based on fact and that it had such a profound effect on you makes me want to read it even more.

EW had some great picks this year.

bermudaonion said...

This book sounds amazing. I came to appreciate what it takes to immigrate to a new country after living in France. I've been excited about this book, but I'm even more excited now that I know it's based on the author's life.

Karlie said...

Sounds like one I would like to read!

Jess said...

This sounds like a fantastic read -- thanks for the review.

Serena said...

I'm really looking forward to this book. Thanks for the glowing've convinced me to move it up in the pile.

Jean said...

Thank you so much for such a wonderful review! It means a lot to me and I even posted it on my Facebook Fan page:

Jean Kwok

diaryofaneccentric said...

I won this book in a giveaway recently, and it sounds like I'm in for a treat!


Confus3d said...

I've just finished reading the book, and I must say that its one of those stories that simply get stuck in ur head, and it does make you think and think and think.. :)
a wonderful story, I read the book in one day, couldnt really stop once I started..
definitely one of my favourites !

SmallWorld at Home said...

Great review--I'm linking to it on my review of the book!

Serena said...

I really love this review. I'm posting my review of this one tomorrow. I really loved this one.