Tuesday, September 14, 2010

review: girl in translation by jean kwok

Girl in Translation is about a pretty amazing immigrant named Kimberly. She arrives in America with her mother expecting that her aunt will take care of them. Her aunt has slightly different plans because she’s bitter that her sister married for love (Kimberly’s father is now deceased) while she entered into an arranged marriage with a man who could bring her to America. So the aunt provides them with a condemned apartment and a factory job that pays by the piece rather than the hour, which Kimberly later learns is illegal.

Kimberly and her mother struggle because of their limited English and subpar living conditions; but eventually Kimberly gets on track. Although subjects requiring English are difficult, she’s able to prove herself in math. When the principal of her elementary school recognizes this, she’s able to arrange for Kimberly’s application at one of the top private schools in New York City. Kimberly is so impressive that the school not only accepts her, but waives her tuition only requiring her to work in the school’s library. While this is great news, Kimberly’s aunt is insanely jealous and begins to make things worse for them. And yet Kimberly is on track to accomplish all of her dreams until the astonishing twist comes at the end. It doesn’t mean Kimberly can’t go to Yale, but she does face a difficult decision.

I thoroughly enjoyed Girl in Translation; the various relationships Kimberly forms were especially interesting. She really has two lives (home/work and school) and the sharp contrast between the two was incredible. There was one thing I found annoying about Girl in Translation although I understood what Kwok was doing. Some of the dialogue is written as Kimberly hears it. It sometimes made it difficult to understand what was being said, but then, that means the reader has the same experience as Kimberly who also had difficulty understanding people in America.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Riverhead Books.


  1. I am listening to the audio and also reading this one right now -- should be done by the weekend. I like it as well.

    Great review.

  2. I think this is one of the best books I have read this year.