Tammy's Reviews > Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
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Jul 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: first-reads
Read from April 02 to 06, 2010

I've never read a book that described more accurately what it is like to be an Asian American immigrant.

It's like Ms. Kwok took pieces of my own experience (growing up in a cockroach-infested apartment with parents scraping by by working multiple menial jobs), and lines lifted from my friends' stories (calling an eraser a rubber, telling parents report cards came out only at the end of the year) and merged them with a thrilling and thoroughly absorbing story.

The novel takes the Chinese immigrant experience and lifts it from stereotypes; it's true that Kim is naive and academically oriented, but the author probes so deeply into her psyche and creates situations with such seriousness and honesty that she frees us from such simple labels.

In terms of language, I thought Ms. Kwok did a great job of transposing Cantonese conversations into English (partly by keeping idioms) and of making the English Kim hears sound more foreign to the readers, in a creative way. She infuses the narration with Chinese mentality, not unnaturally, and cinches descriptions of harsh realities with delicately observed prose which, far from seeming out of place, helps tint the situations in fresh hues.

More than anything, the human connection in this novel is real (like Matt, the mother, and colorful characters along the way - Mr. Al, Mr. Jamali, the African American man who comes to fix their heater); the delight of these characters in the face of patheticness, misery, and weakness moved me.

I found the ending extremely dissatisfying though - it really didn't add anything new to the story and possibly uprooted all the good things that the novel had built up to that point. But I guess my philosophy ultimately differs from Kim's, and good Asian American literature is so rare that I'm giving this book five stars anyway.

Received free through Goodreads First Reads.
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Reading Progress

03/04 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8)




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Jodi I am so sorry to read that you experienced conditions like Kim did in the book. I hope things are better for you now! I enjoyed your review of the book!


message 7: by Katie (new)

Katie Mcsweeney Your review makes me want to read this book, thanks :)


message 6: by Adeva (new)

Adeva Great review. I'll certainly read this book.


Emily I just finished this book and completely agree with your review. It was a riveting book, and I was hooked from the beginning but I was also disappointed with the ending.


Kate I was hooked as well (read the book in one day) but also was disappointed with the ending.


Jasmin B I'm reading this book because of your review. Thank you very much. )


Ilga I just recommended this book to a friend, but told her to stop reading about 20 pages from the end.


Brittany Johns The reason Kwok accurately describes the experiences of an Asian immigrant to America is because she herself is one; many of the things the character goes through in the story are actually what happened to the author. I had the good fortune to hear her talk about the book and her own life experiences.


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