Summer reads: GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok

Do you remember where you bought that book? That book which has been lying on your bookshelf for at least six months? Or maybe you (unlike me) don’t buy books on a whim… unable to ignore the temptation of yet another novel?

This one I remember well. It was our last morning in New York last April and we had finally made it to the Tenement Museum in the Lower East side. Not only did the visit totally exceed our expectations (bearing in mind EVERYONE had told us we had to include it in our itinery) but the bookshop, housed within the museum, literally knocked our socks off. [This may have been one of 3 books I lugged home in my already bulging suitcase.]

Kimberly Chang is our the heroine in Jean Kwok’s debut novel. Arriving in New York, fresh from Hong Kong, in the early 1980s, Kimberly’s mother earns two cents an hour in a sweatshop while her 11-year-old daughter faces the challenge of school. Neither of them speak a word of English and they live in what could only be described as extreme poverty.

An immigrant herself, Kwok tells the tale vividly. Her view of the city, her struggles at school, her work in the factory after school and her teenage angst amid it all. As they live and learn to survive straddling two cultures, we journey and empathise with Kimberly all the way.

I was thoroughly absorbed in this novel. Some have called it predictable and criticized the ending for being too clichéd. I would have been disappointed if it had been any less so.

[Next up is The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca]

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