Book Nook Cafe discussion

81 views
Group Read > Girl In Translation - December 2011

Comments (showing 1-50 of 72) (72 new)    post a comment »

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments What? Group Read

Book: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok Girl in Translation

Author: Jean Kwok Jean Kwok

Discussion Leader: Meera

When: Discussion begins on December 1, 2011

Where: The discussion will take place in this thread.

Spoiler Etiquette: Please put chapter number or page number at top of your post. Also include the word SPOILER at the top of you post if you are going to discuss a major plot element

Book Details:
# Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (May 3, 2011)
# ISBN-10: 1594485151

Synopsis:

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but also herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

About the author:
Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn, New York when she was five years old. While living in a roach-infested apartment without central heating, she worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood.[1] She was accepted to Hunter College High School, a public secondary school for intellectually gifted students. Upon graduation, she won early admission to Harvard University, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and received a BA in English with honors, before going on to earn her MFA in fiction at Columbia University.[2] She then moved to The Netherlands and worked for Leiden University, teaching English and as a Dutch-English translator. She speaks English, Chinese, Dutch and studied Latin.[3] She lives in The Netherlands with her husband and two sons, and now writes full-time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Kwok

Amazon link:
http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Translatio...


message 2: by Alias Reader (last edited Nov 24, 2011 08:38AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Discussion Questions: - MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

1. Throughout Girl in Translation, the author uses creative spelling to show Kimberly’s mis-hearing and misunderstanding of English words. How does the language of the novel evolve as Kimberly grows and matures? Do you see a change in the respective roles that English and Chinese play in the narrative as it progresses?

2. The word translation figures prominently in the title of the novel, and learning to translate between her two languages is key to Kimberly’s ability to thrive in her new life. Does she find herself translating back and forth in anything other than language? Clothing? Priorities? Expectations? Personality or behavior? Can you cite instances where this occurs, and why they are significant to the story as a whole?

3. Kimberly has two love interests in the book. How are the relationships that Matt and Curt offer different? Why do you think she ultimately chooses one boy over the other? What does that choice say about her? Can you see a future for her with the other boy? What would change?

4. In many ways Kimberly takes over the position of head of household after her family moves to New York. Was this change in roles inevitable? How do you imagine Ma feels about it? Embarrassed? Grateful? In which ways does Ma still fulfill the role of mother?

5. Kimberly often refers to her father, and imagines how her life might have been different, easier, if he had lived. Do you think she is right?

6. Kimberly’s friend Annette never seems to grasp the depths of Kimberly’s poverty. What does this say about her? What lesson does this experience teach Kimberly? Is Kimberly right to keep the details of her home life a secret?

7. Kimberly believes that devoting herself to school will allow her to free her family from poverty. Does school always live up to her expectations? Where do you think it fails her? How does it help her succeed? Can you imagine the same character without the academic talent? How would her life be different? What would remain the same? Is Kimberly right to believe that all of her potential lies in her talent for school? Must qualities like ambition, drive, hope, and optimism go hand in hand with book smarts?

8. Think about other immigrant stories. How is Kimberly’s story universal? How is it unique? How does Kimberly’s Chinese-American story compare to other immigrant stories? Would it change if she were from a different country or culture?

9. Kimberly lives in extreme poverty. Was anything about her circumstances surprising to you? How has reading Girl in Translation affected your views of immigration? How can you apply these lessons in your community?

10. The story is set in the 1980s. Do you think immigrant experiences are much different today? What has changed? What has remained the same?


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments I do not think this book added anything new to this genre of fiction. It was just more of the same about the Chinese immigrant experience. Nothing original, nothing different. I had hoped for more.

Just my humble opinion.


message 4: by Julie (last edited Nov 25, 2011 06:34AM) (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments Ugh. I am one and a half books away from even starting this. Time is going too fast for me!


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments Julie, I listened to this book so I did not "see" all the things that some of the reviews talk about.......


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments JoAnn/QuAppelle wrote: "Julie, I listened to this book so I did not "see" all the things that some of the reviews talk about......."

I haven't read reviews so I don't even know what this means! :-)


message 7: by Connie (last edited Nov 25, 2011 11:52AM) (new)

Connie (Connie_G) | 248 comments I read the book a couple of months ago for a library book group. The character of Kimberly is very engaging which made it an enjoyable read. The book won the ALA Alex Award for 2011 and some other awards.

It's not December yet, and it says on the first post that discussion will start on December 1st, so you might find that others will join in the discussion in another week.

The author went through an immigrant experience similiar to Kimberly, going to school during the day, working in a sweat shop after school, and living in a terrible apartment. Jean Kwok said on a video I watched that her mother is a warm, funny, eloquent person when she speaks in her native language, but that does not come through when she speaks English. In the book, the immigrant experiences of Kimberly and her mother were quite different because it's easier for a young person to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture.


Toni I am planning on participating. I just finished the book I was working on this morning so am ready to start this book this afternoon. Looking forward to discussing with everyone and getting to know you.


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Someone asked where I got the discussion questions.

I got them from the authors web page. Sorry, I should have included the link.

http://www.jeankwok.com/discussion.shtml


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments I see my library has the book in transit to my local branch.

I am going to have to quickly finish the book I am reading now and quickly read Girl in T. as I have to read Cutting the Stone for my f2f group in 2 weeks.

Yikes !


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments Alias Reader wrote: "Someone asked where I got the discussion questions.

I got them from the authors web page. Sorry, I should have included the link.

http://www.jeankwok.com/discussion.shtml"


I was the one who asked. They reminded me of questions I used for my fifth grade readers when we were discussing a book. LOL


message 12: by Alias Reader (last edited Nov 27, 2011 02:43PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments JoAnn wrote: I was the one who asked. They reminded me of questions I used for my fifth grade readers when we were discussing a book. LOL
--------------

Sorry you don't care for the discussion questions. They were the only questions I could find on-line.

I post the questions because they sometimes help initiate discussion.


message 13: by JoAnn/QuAppelle (last edited Nov 27, 2011 04:41PM) (new)

JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments Alias Reader wrote: "JoAnn wrote: I was the one who asked. They reminded me of questions I used for my fifth grade readers when we were discussing a book. LOL
--------------

Sorry you don't care for the discussion questions..."


It's not that I did not care for them, and I did not say that....they just reminded me of past discussions......long past....with much younger readers.


Madrano (madran) | 2908 comments It's funny but when i read discussion questions, i sometimes wonder if i missed the point of a book. It must be difficult to come up with ones which evoke the book. When i was with the AOL Classics group we created our own and i often felt as though i was calling on my grade school experience. I didn't like it but otherwise could rarely come up with questions which tickled brains into posting.

deb


Sarah (SarahReader) | 68 comments Meera, I certainly agree that the writing is wooden and the characters are one-dimensional. However, I don't think the story is unrealistic so far, although I certainly should defer to your personal experiences! In the school where I teach, new students often arrive with zero English and are simply placed in an age-appropriate classroom. This is in one of the best school systems in the country. The only special service available to help English learners at this school is a half-time ESOL teacher who is expected to serve all 7 grades in the school (kindergarten through sixth grade). The students are really expected to learn by osmosis.


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Sarah wrote: "Meera, I certainly agree that the writing is wooden
-----------------------

I just finished chapter 1. As to the writing, so far, it seems to fit the narrator well. She is only 11 years old and speaks limited English.


Sarah (SarahReader) | 68 comments Alias said: As to the writing, so far, it seems to fit the narrator well. She is only 11 years old and speaks limited English.

Good point, Alias. Effective writing certainly doesn't have to be "literary" or complex. We'll see if it matures along with her age and language skills. It does remind me of the style of Tree Grows in Brooklyn, another simply told story of coming-of-age in hard times. A lot of powerful stories are plot driven and based on a character's actions. Hmm, now that I think about it, A Town Like Alice was similar.


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Sarah wrote: It does remind me of the style of Tree Grows in Brooklyn, another simply told story of coming-of-age in hard times.
---------------------

Yes ! That's a good comparison.

I'm reading the hardcover edition. I've read about 100 pages so far and am finding the book engaging.

So far my favorite quote is from page 84, "no matter how flawed someone else may be, that doesn't give us the right to be less than we are..."


message 19: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 01, 2011 09:26PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Meera wrote: . And a teacher who didn't realize that his new Chinese student doesn't understand English?
-----------------------

There must have been some type of examination, however poorly done, because the teacher says at one point, "they" said you understood English.

I'm trying to pin a year on when this story begins. The author mentions subway tokens, the Reagan admin., and pay phones being .10 cents.

I am thinking it is around 1980.

I have no idea what the ESOL program was around 1980 in NYC or even if they was such a thing.

This link shows there were court cases involving the lack of such programs. This link deals with Spanish, but I think there would be even less for Asian speakers at that time. (about 5 years after Vietnam war)

http://www.freewebs.com/cerdahdz/hist...

The school she goes to seems to have little if any Asians to help her communicate with the school. Also she didn't live in an Asian community, so she didn't have the support of others in her situation who maybe could have given advice.

The only people the mom interacts with is the aunt and maybe a few people at work. The two of them are isolated. Something that people like the aunt and husband depend on to take advantage of them.

All this may contribute to the lack resources for her at the school. Add to that stew, her teacher is a jerk. And her mother is a foreigner that doesn't speak the language and doesn't know the customs. So the story doesn't seem that far fetched to me.

As Connie noted in post #7, the experience seems to echo the authors.

After reading a few books by Jonathan Kozol I am not really surprised by the education she is receiving.


message 20: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 01, 2011 09:36PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments I finished the book. It's a very quick read.

I felt the book devolved into a lifetime movie type read. Which is fine, but not my thing.

I think the book could also have been listed as a young adult read.


Connie (Connie_G) | 248 comments Alias Reader wrote: "I finished the book. It's a very quick read.

I felt the book devolved into a lifetime movie type read. Which is fine, but not my thing.

I think the book could also have been listed as a young a..."


I agree with you, Alias, that young adults would probably like this book.

I thought the ending was the weakest part of the book. But maybe the author's point was that you have to give some things up to succeed financially and professionally when you're an immigrant.


message 22: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 02, 2011 07:41AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Connie wrote: But maybe the author's point was that you have to give some things up to succeed financially and professionally when you're an immigrant.
--------------

SPOILER for entire book to follow !

On one level they certainly suffered as immigrants. Especially their housing situation. However, I would note the area they lived in was black. So the housing/poverty situation seems to be a much deeper social problem then just immigration.

And the ending was about giving things up, but I think it didn't have a lot to do with the immigrant experience. However, her (view spoiler).

So I am not sure what the author's point was.

I think the book started well. And set the ground for what could have been an excellent book. The middle got a bit repetitious and didn't build on the first part. The last part, is the books weakest. I felt it turned into a Lifetime movie and turned aways from the immigrant theme.

However, the reviews on Amazon are mostly 5 stars, so I think that a book like this has an audience. This just may not be my type of book.


message 23: by Meera (last edited Dec 02, 2011 08:38AM) (new)

Meera I finished this and ended up liking it more than I had in the beginning. I would have liked more depth but once I accepted it more as a YA novel, I became less annoyed with it. I'm fond of YA genre so I don't mean anything disrespectful about the book in that sense.

One of my sources of irritation at ending of the book was how she dealt with (view spoiler)


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments 1. Throughout Girl in Translation, the author uses creative spelling to show Kimberly’s mis-hearing and misunderstanding of English words.
-----------------

Some of the spellings I couldn't figure out ! LOL.


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments 7. Kimberly believes that devoting herself to school will allow her to free her family from poverty. Does school always live up to her expectations? Where do you think it fails her? How does it help her succeed? Can you imagine the same character without the academic talent? How would her life be different? What would remain the same? Is Kimberly right to believe that all of her potential lies in her talent for school? Must qualities like ambition, drive, hope, and optimism go hand in hand with book smarts?
------------------------------------

It certainly was her ticket out of poverty. I don't think it failed her at all.

Of course not everyone is as lucky as Kimberley in the brain dept. However, learning the language and graduating even a state college would have given them a ticket out of the abject poverty and into a middle class life. I think her mother and Kim were totally right in this regard. And getting out from under the nasty aunt thumb didn't hurt.

There was a New Yorker article recently about Chinese immigrants. I think it said that Asian medium income in now about $20,000 over the white middle class. And this is after just a generation.

I live in an area that is changing demographically and is now about 50% Chinese. I can see first hand that they put a tremendous focus on education. And it certainly seems to be paying off. I give them credit. Most of the adult Asian I see in the area do not speak English, but their children do and they excel in school. This can't be easy, but they do it.

I can't find the New Yorker article.
But on wiki they had this.

Asian Americans have the highest educational attainment of any racial group. About 49% of Asian Americans have at least a bachelor's degree.[22] Asian people often have the highest math averages in tests such as SAT, GRE etc. Since the 1990s, although verbal scores generally lag, combined SAT scores have also been higher than for white Americans.[citation needed] Asians constitute around 10-20% of those attending Ivy League and other elite universities.

Asian Americans are the largest racial group on all but one of the nine fully established University of California campuses. Chinese Americans make up 25% of the undergraduate student body. Asian Americans make up only 4% of the American population, but they are more likely to attend college, go to graduate school, and earn higher grades than any other ethnic group in the United States.

In 2005 the median personal income for Asian Americans was estimated to be $36,152, compared to $33,030 for Whites, $27,101 for African Americans and $23,613 for those identifying as Hispanic or Latino. Asian Americans had the highest household income levels of any racial demographic with a median household income of $61,094, compared to $48,554 among European American households. Additionally 28% of Asian American households had incomes exceeding $100,000, while only 18% of the overall population boasted such household incomes.

... Overall, the higher personal income levels are attributed mostly to higher educational attainment.

Here is the link for the full article and context.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demograp...


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments 10. The story is set in the 1980s. Do you think immigrant experiences are much different today? What has changed? What has remained the same?
-----------------

I think it is easier today. There are more social services to help then there were say in 1900. And there are now large communities where they can help each other. In the book Kim and her mom seemed to be isolated from other Chinese people that maybe could have helped them with advise. Maybe that is another reason the aunt put them in that neighborhood. By keeping them isolated and ill informed she had the upper hand.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments I started! But I am only a few pages in, so no opinions yet.


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments We had ESL in our suburban school district in the early 1980s.

Interestingly enough, I found out that the ESL teacher did not have to speak all the languages with which she had to deal.


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments I found it disconcerting that nothing was ever said about how she and her mother came to the US, how they managed to stay here for so long, etc.

I agree that the end of the book was VERY weak and skipping ahead all those years was a lazy/shortened way to tie up loose ends


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments I would rather read someone's life story in this form than read a memoir, I must admit.


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments JoAnn/QuAppelle wrote: Interestingly enough, I found out that the ESL teacher did not have to speak all the languages with which she had to deal.

----------------

I was surprised to learn this, too. My niece taught ESL, not part of her regular teaching job, but a after hours program the school offered. Her only language is English.


message 32: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 04, 2011 07:55AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments JoAnn/QuAppelle wrote: "I found it disconcerting that nothing was ever said about how she and her mother came to the US, how they managed to stay here for so long, etc.
-------------

I didn't think about that part. How long can one stay in the U.S. if they have a job and are sponsored? Kim and her mom were sponsored by the aunt and the mom had a job.

Would anyone in authority even know or care. They lived in an abandoned building. The aunt probably paid them off the books. As I recall she paid the mom in cash and took out all sorts of debts and "taxes". I don't know about the 1980s, but schools today don't check or report on a child's legal status.

I thought this issue was brought up by the mom taking the test a few times for citizenship. After she failed, that was why it was important for Kim to pass. This was the part in the book where she told her friend she couldn't go and watch her in her show. She needed to take the test so she could get financial aid for school and they could stay in this country.


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments Yes, taking the test was important, but they had already been in the US for many many years. And it was never said that this test was tied into them remaining here.

Not talking about their legal status just seemed very odd. A big hole in the book, IMO.


message 34: by Julie (last edited Dec 04, 2011 09:38AM) (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments Alias Reader wrote: "Would anyone in authority even know or care. They lived in an abandoned building. The aunt probably paid them off the books. As I recall she paid the mom in cash and took out all sorts of debts and "taxes"...."

It says in the book that it was easy to tell who had green cards and who was illegal because some people got checks and some people had to go to the office to get cash. Then it says that her mother got a check but they had to go to the office anyway where Uncle Bob cashed it and divided it up. So they were legal.

Here's some green card info
permanent residency


message 35: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 04, 2011 10:16AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Julie wrote: Then it says that her mother got a check but they had to go to the office anyway where Uncle Bob cashed it and divided it up. So they were legal. "
-------------

Thanks for clarifying, Julie. I forgot exactly what the payment deal was.

Good link on the residency, Julie.
However, I am not clear. If we assume the they had green cards, how long could they stay? Can you just stay forever with a green card, and just accept the restrictions on voting and such, and not become a citizen with full rights?

-----
Edit: According to this link a green card is good for 10 years. What the rules were in the 1980s I don't know. So the question is can you renew your green card for another 10 years ? If yes, is there a limit on renewing?
http://www.immihelp.com/greencard/ret...

--------------

Edit again. I found the answer for the period that Kim and her mom were here.
----

Do I need to renew my Green Card if it was issued between 1979 and 1988 but does not have an expiration date?

No. Green Cards issued between 1979 and 1988 do not have Green Card renewal / expiration dates and do not need to be renewed at this time. USCIS will develop a plan for replacing these Green Cards at a future time.

http://www.foreignborn.com/visas_imm/...

--------------

So I am guessing that since they had a green card, this was no longer a problem for Kim and her mom.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments Yeah, my link wasn't clear on all that. Except the page was titled PERMANENT residence, so I assumed somehow you can stay forever if you do it right. I will have to check out your links later since I am about ready to walk out the door now.


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments I am sure that however they got into the country, Uncle Bob lied about it

I was listening really carefully from the very beginning of the audio to see how they got into the US, and I never heard anything. And it was not an abridged audio.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments There is one thing in this book that is really bugging me..it's not making sense to me. It keeps talking about all the work they take home. They walk and take the subway home so they couldn't possibly carry very many clothes. And then all they are doing is putting belts on and buttoning things up and stuff like that. How much time could that possibly take for what they can carry? It doesn't even seem like it would even be worth the effort...just stay a few minutes longer at the factory. And now I just got past the part where they were describing the bagging and how long it takes and in the middle told how she's making less that $2 an hour because of the speed. Then it described how Kim got faster and faster at that but to me it seems like that would already be the quickest part of the whole process!


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Julie wrote: "There is one thing in this book that is really bugging me..it's not making sense to me. It keeps talking about all the work they take home. They walk and take the subway home so they couldn't possi..."
-----------------

Good point, Julie. I didn't catch that.

I do remember them doing jewelery at home later in the book.


Lynne in PA/Lineepinee (Lineepineeaolcom) | 21 comments I read this book in July of 2010. I noted that the ending was weak, but I gave the book a grade of B.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments I am starting to think about what I want to read next while I am still finishing this book...not a good sign. :-)


Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments Julie wrote: "I am starting to think about what I want to read next while I am still finishing this book...not a good sign. :-)"
------------

On the plus side, it's a quick read. I look forward to your thoughts on the novel.


JoAnn/QuAppelle | 712 comments Julie wrote: "I am starting to think about what I want to read next while I am still finishing this book...not a good sign. :-)"

I felt the same way. Could not wait for the audio to end!


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments Done. Well at least there was finally something that was thought provoking at the end!


message 45: by Alias Reader (last edited Dec 09, 2011 07:17AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8325 comments What is you opinion of the decision Kim made regarding the baby ?

Do you think it was right to keep her decision from her boyfriend?


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments Alias Reader wrote: "What is you opinion of the decision Kim made regarding the baby ?

Do you think it was right to keep her decision from her boyfriend?"


*SPOILERS*
I think she should have told him and then told him she was still leaving anyway. Or at least told him after she left and had the baby. It seems very wrong to allow someone who has a child walking around to not know about it. For awhile, I thought she might give up her ambitions in life to stay with Matt and have the baby which I did NOT want at all. I am a childless full-time worker myself so that is just part of how I think anyway, but on top of that Matt wasn't really for her. I don't even know why she was so smitten with him but love works in mysterious ways I guess.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments I gave the book two stars for being too simplistic and I agree with those that said the characters tended to be one-dimensional.
My review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 48: by Julie (last edited Dec 09, 2011 03:35PM) (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments 1. Throughout Girl in Translation, the author uses creative spelling to show Kimberly’s mis-hearing and misunderstanding of English words. How does the language of the novel evolve as Kimberly grows and matures? Do you see a change in the respective roles that English and Chinese play in the narrative as it progresses?

This bugged me sometimes. I was a good idea but poorly done I thought. There would be a semi-difficult word spelled weird and then a couple sentences later there would be a much harder word written normally. I seemed so random to me.


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments 3. Kimberly has two love interests in the book. How are the relationships that Matt and Curt offer different? Why do you think she ultimately chooses one boy over the other? What does that choice say about her? Can you see a future for her with the other boy? What would change?

I thought they were BOTH wrong for her!


Julie (readerjules) | 866 comments 9. Kimberly lives in extreme poverty. Was anything about her circumstances surprising to you? How has reading Girl in Translation affected your views of immigration? How can you apply these lessons in your community?

I am not sure Kimberly and her mom were average immigrants in alot of ways because of the aunt and how she isolated and tried to control them.
Anyone else besides me wonder why the mom never seemed to be able or want (which is it?) to learn english?


« previous 1
back to top

unread topics | mark unread


Books mentioned in this topic

Girl in Translation (other topics)
Brick Lane (other topics)
The Namesake (other topics)
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (other topics)
Shanghai Girls (other topics)
More...

Authors mentioned in this topic

Jean Kwok (other topics)
Jonathan Kozol (other topics)
Monica Ali (other topics)
Jhumpa Lahiri (other topics)