Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Book description:
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.

This well-written and moving tale of immigration and exploitation is one of the best books I've read this year. When Ah-Kim and her mother immigrate legally to the U.S., they nonetheless find themselves working in a sweatshop to pay off the debt they owe to Kim's aunt (the owner of the factory). As Ah-Kim, a star student in Hong Kong, wrestles with English and the tribulations of school in Brooklyn, she is forced to re-evaluate her vision of herself and to assume a caretaker role over her mother whose lack of English skills keeps her isolated.

This extraordinary book explores the mindset of an immigrant child, and traces the lifelong impact that some choices can have on an individual and a family. The central story here is that of a mother and daughter fighting against the odds to succeed, and the love that keeps them strong in the face of overwhelming adversity. Highly recommended debut novel- I hope we see many more from author Jean Kwok!

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