Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Girl in Translation - Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation is a moving story about a young girl called Kimberley Chang and her 'Ma's' move from Hong Kong to the rundown streets of 80's Brooklyn.

Although they come across with the help of their family, in the guise of Ma's sister, Kimberley and her mother soon learn that they can only rely on themselves; that no matter what good intentions there may be, jealousy can often overtake kindness and even common decency.

Kimberly's 'talent for school' is the winning factor in this novel and despite family 'helping' them by allowing them to live in a mice and roach infested apartment, her perseverance to succeed is inspiring. Even at a young age, Kimberly understands that they have to make something of their lives - especially earn and save enough money - if they are to survive the harsh reality of living in America. From the penetrating cold and insects of their living quarters, their anguish of paying off their debts (to her Aunt) by working in a sweatshop and the heavy burden of keeping her poverty from her (American) friend, you feel their desperation.

Kwok tells this heartfelt tale so beautifully. She hints at the gentle life mother and daughter had prior to the move, of Ma's love of music and the love she had for husband and how Kimberley wonders what life would be like with him still alive. It would be easy (for Kwok) to get caught up in describing an arduous world of immigrants that enter the US - the pitfalls they face on a daily basis, the hardship they encounter; and this is what Kwok does, but through the eyes of a young girl, who filled with common sense and intelligence, doesn't allow it to consume her and her mother.

Not only does the prose ebb gently making you turn page after page without realizing that you're doing so, the subtle love story that is growing adds a touch of hope. This love story unfolds so naturally; as Kimberley blossoms slowly into an intelligent young woman so does the love between her and Matt (her fellow sweatshop worker). It's an unassuming love and the ending to this wonderful novel is unexpected (not in a M Night Shyamalan way!) but in a spotting a rainbow after the rain way.

I sincerely hope I haven't gushed too much about how lovely this book is! And, I haven't given a lot of details about what the story entails as I think giving too much away, will spoil the essence of this novel. It would be easy to get into the realms of what does 'translation' mean in this book, and whilst reading it you see how Kim's 'translation' of not only language but also of fashion, competition and poverty changes as she grows up; my review is a very simple outline - the story captivated me not only because of its underlying, some would say deeper, meaning; but because it was just a wonderfully and beautifully written one.

There are very few books that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start reading it again and this is certainly one of them. Its an extremely engaging and easy book to read with rich characters and I for one can't wait to read the next Kwok novel.

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