This debut novel by Jean Kwok tells the moving story of young Kim Chang who immigrates to New York from Hong Kong along with her mother. Ma was a talented musician and teacher in Hong Kong. In New York, she works in a Chinatown sweatshop to repay her debt to her older sister, Paula. Paula and her husband have paid for Ma’s medical care and for the Chang’s trip to New York.
Kim was a top student in Hong Kong, excelling especially in math and science. As she struggles to learn English, she must also go to the factory every day after school and on Saturdays to help Ma meet her quota. Kim and Ma live in a squalid, unheated apartment in Brooklyn. Aunt Paula has given them a fake address so Kim can attend one of the better public schools.
Through a friend from school, Kim sees a world of comfort and privilege. She knows that she must do everything in her power to pay their debt to Aunt Paula, and begin to lift her and Ma from grinding poverty. When Kim wins a full scholarship to a prestigious private high school, Aunt Paula of course becomes very jealous of her success. but there is little she can do.
Kim’s struggles are real and seemingly in surmountable. And although they are Chinese, the Chang’s story is similar to those of many immigrants.
Kwok herself is from an immigrant family, although this novel is only very slightly autobiographical. I felt sad and anxious when Kim faced so many challenges; happy when she succeeded. Girl in Translation is an interesting story, and well written. I highly recommend it!
Published in hardcover-Riverhead-2010
Softcover edition-Riverhead Trade-2011