For The Someday Book

Book Review: Girl in Translation

Posted on: May 27, 2013

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Riverhead Books, New York, 2010, 293 pp.

Girl in TranslationI was browsing the library shelves looking for something compelling and interesting but not too challenging for the Memorial Day weekend. I got a recommendation from a church member who is also a librarian for this one, and responded, “That looks like exactly the kind of book I like to read.” That proved precisely true.

Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang and her mother, who immigrate from Hong Kong to New York City when Kimberly is eleven. Instead of the life they were promised as a nanny for Kimberly’s cousins, they are employed in her aunt’s sweatshop and housed in an apartment with broken out windows, no heat, and pests everywhere. The novel chronicles their path into American life, their journey of overcoming terrible circumstances, Kimberly’s growing up, and their relationship as “mother and cub.”

Kimberly is exceptionally bright. In spite of the language barrier, her math and science abilities shine, and she is able to seize opportunities for schooling and advancement, even while returning to the sweatshop every night to help her mother with the piecework that provides their survival income. Her mother, trapped in the shop working all the time, does not learn to navigate language or culture with Kimberly’s speed, so the story tells of her growing distance from her mother as she tries to fit in–even while she continues to love her mother fiercely. The story contains difficult choices, growing awareness, characters who evolve and lots of hope.

Girl in Translation was a delightful story to read, and perfect for the holiday weekend. I read it in less than a day, cheered every accomplishment and loved every minute.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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