Sunday, May 23, 2010
Review: Girl in Translation
The coming of age story of a young woman who emigrates from Hong Kong to New York City, this book follows Kimberly Chang as she tries to make her way in a foreign country. Upon arrival Kimberly and her mother find themselves adrift in a world of poverty and sweatshop labor. Kimberly's saving grace is her tremendous intelligence, which she quickly realizes is her only ticket out of the sweatshops. Following Kimberly from age eleven through high school, Kwok provides a stark portrait of the challenges faced by American immigrants: systemic poverty, intolerance, language barriers, exhaustive work schedules, and cultural traditions which allow respect to some of the worst offenders here, personified by Kwok in Kimberly's aunt, a slumlord who lords over the sweatshop where her niece and sister toil. All of this misery aside, this is a story about people, and Kimberly is an engaging character, who engages the reader in her efforts to make friends, navigate teenage love, and pursue a way out of the sweatshop through academic excellence. In some ways this is a classic story of American immigration, much like many others, but compelling characters and several intertwined plots make this fresh enough to be well worth reading.