Sunday, March 10, 2013
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
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.
There was something just very unbelievable about this book. I realise that I have no experience, or indeed, knowledge of being a Chinese Immigrant, working in a sweat shop and living in abject poverty but it was the way everything was brought together that was unbelievable.
I don't doubt the existence of labour sweatshops or that places like the hovel of an apartment exist and are being lived in, or that a young girl could learn English so quickly without anyone speaking it at home, or that she could exceed academically or achieve perfect SAT scores or find love, or anyone of these things separately but could they all come together! Not in my opinion. It just seemed humanly impossible to do all these things at once, there just is not enough hours in the day, not if Kimberly got any sleep.
This lack of believability combined with the choppy writing style made it a book that I did not really enjoy reading. I was also constantly annoyed at the beginning with the author writing out the language misunderstandings phonetically so that I had to read some of them several times to actually understand what was said and who Kimberley had actually misunderstood it.
One slightly redeeming factor was the ending section "Twelve Years Later". The author chose the only ending, in my opinion, that was not too sappy or too unbelievable either. This did not sae the whole book but at least I didn't groan out loud at the ending like I thought I would be doing. Although, how Kimberley achieved all that on her own in the end with her new responsibilities (trying not to include a spoiler) did not seem possible either.
2 out of 5 from me and one I am looking forward to discussing at my book group as I bet some loved it and some hated it like me.