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4.2 out of 5 stars28
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 30 August 2010
I am guessing I will be in a minority giving this only three stars and perhaps I am being a bit harsh. It is a very readable account of a young Chinese girl growing up in New York under harsh, exploitative conditions. I enjoyed it while I was reading it but as I got closer to the end it started to pall a bit. The descriptions of her outstanding genius which never faltered under any circumstances - Scoring off-the-scale in tests even after being up all night and having poor English etc, got a bit tiresome, and the grinding poverty was all very Angela's Ashes - the Chinese American Version. What started as a promising Coming of Age novel turned into a cliched romance, albeit a thwarted one. Enjoyable but ultimately superficial. Not in the same league as Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld which covers similar adolescent emotional territory about feeling like an outsider. A good read if that's what you're looking for but ultimately a let down if you want something with more depth.
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on 17 October 2011
This book isn't really like anything I've read before. Numerous times I had to check and remind myself that it wasn't actually a memoir - the authenticity of this book is amazing. Kimberly's voice is so very real. I didn't agree with a few of the things that she thought and this didn't particularly make me warm to her, but I understand and expect her thoughts to be different to my own, thanks to her culture. This book gives a very good insight of a Chinese mother and daughter who have immigrated into America - a very different society and culture to that which they are accustomed to. The struggles of the Changs were well documented and quite powerful - from the language difference to the difficult working and living conditions. I found the romance in this book to be very touching and the ending was not very expected. Although it was a quite open ending, it also wrapped up most things that had been discussed. This is a fantastic debut novel from Kwok and it's something that I would recommend to anyone looking for a different, cultural read.
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on 5 August 2012
Kimberly and her mother are sponsored out of Hong Kong by their Chinese relatives, but instead of finding the streets paved with gold, they are forced to live in a squalid apartment and work horrendous hours in a sweatshop for low wages to pay off their debt to Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob. They work as garment finishers, and are paid a pittance in piece work for each finished garment; their poverty is measured by how many skirts it would take to afford a new school bag, or pots and pans. In spite of extreme tiredness, the inability to speak good English and a lack of money to pay for heating and clothing, Kimberly manages to overcome her vindictive schoolmaster, Mr Bogart, and win a scholarship to a prestigious private school, from which, through dint of hard work and precocious intellectual talents, she eventually goes to Yale. But the path to intellectual glory and the hope of financial comfort is paved with obstacles. Kimberly's mother constantly fails to pass her naturalisation exams. Her aunt insists on full payment of debts, despite familial ties and her own wealth, and esnures they remain in the squalor of their condemned apartment. After a long day of study, Kimberly often has to work through the night to help her mother. She is also isolated from her schoolfriends through pride, shame and consciousness of a life apart from the privileged private schoolchildren.

We follow Kimberly from her elementary school right up to a hurried ending (the book's only serious flaw) twelve years after leaving school, through her fierce loyalty to her mother and friends, her clear sight into academic work being the springboard out of poverty, the horror of the near-Dickesian factory conditions that she, and many people throughout the world, had to endure, and her awakening as a young girl in love.

Although there is little humour in the book, it isn't heavy going, and the pace is fast. Without giving away the ending, we learn that despite her intellectual brilliance, Kimberly still needs womanly fulfilment, but has to make sacrifices to achieve it.

It's a very strong tale and I wholly recommend it.
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on 19 May 2014
Being an ethnic minority, I've always enjoyed reading books about the immigrant experience. I found the first half of the book enjoyable. It had all the makings of a great novel - poor immigrant suffering horrific living conditions and poverty in a bid to have a better life. I liked seeing the world through Kimberly's eyes and reading about her harsh experiences of working in a factory and trying to fit into American life. However, I found the second half of the book became more like a YA love story and in some ways soured the story. It was as if the narrative switched to become a story about puppy love, crushes and love triangles.

The author could have gone further with this book in covering more in depth feelings about identity issues, fitting in, racism etc. which are all very much part of many immigrant's experiences. I felt that I did not get a chance to get to know the characters as well as I wanted to as everything was very much on the surface. But saying that, I would consider reading this writer's next book as she definitely writes well. If you are looking for a feel good story - a beach read this is it. If you want a more in-depth book about the being an immigrant in a foreign land or find love stories soppy than this isn't for you.
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on 3 December 2014
Girl in Translation is a wonderful coming of age story about a young girl coming to America to carve a place for both herself and her mother. Young Kim has a tough job ahead of her, working hard in school and then in her ruthless aunt's sweatshop to keep her small family in a run down tenement in Brooklyn. Defying the difficult conditions, working in the spirit that built this country, will she emerge from poverty to achieve her goals? This was a wonderful book, filled with a tender romance, and fraught with setback after heart wrenching setbacks. The predicament of the immigrants is as pitiful as it is shameful, that in this great country such abuse could occur. Kim's every victory is a shared triumph and a joy to read. I loved this book. it is a testament to the human spirit, filled with hope and though it is laced with heartache, the message of survival is not lost in translation. Beautifully and authentically written, this book ultimately is about responsibility and duty, and how we choose to guide our conscience.
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on 20 September 2011
It seems pretty clear to me that this story has been written by a woman who has lived most of the life of her main character. I've no doubt she has embellished parts of it for the sake of storytelling, but overall there's something very *real* about the poverty Ah-Kim endures and the obsessive diligence with which she applies to her work.

Overall I very much enjoyed this story. It's just that parts of it feel a little bit plastic, a bit like how Hollywood would like this story to be. At one point for example, Ah-Kim is accused by her teachers of cheating because she keeps on getting perfect marks. They invite her to a classroom and have her stand at the front of the class. They ask her questions in each of their subjects. She gets all the answers right and at the end, gets a standing ovation.

While I've no doubt any half-decent set of teachers would be very impressed with this, there's something a little bit artificial about the idea.

Overall though, the atmosphere of this story is worth the read.
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on 3 July 2011
This is a first novel and I do so hope there will be more. Wonderful writing, great characters and a haunting, touching and totally beleivable tale. It is always great to discover a book that is good and different - I cannot think what to compare this to, which is good, a real find. Highly recommended.
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on 14 September 2013
A book about a young girl experiencing the pull between two different cultures is very dear to my heart and whilst I should be shocked at what Kimberley and her mother had to go through whilst living in the richest country in the world, unfortunately I am not, and although this is a work of fiction, I am sure it could also be a realistic autobiography for many.

I really enjoyed it. I loved the mentions of Hong Kong and little bits of Chinese culture that I can relate to (yes, I always drink boiled water). The ending was just so bittersweet. I really wish there was a sequel. Anyway, I definitely recommend to those who want an insight to what life is like for many Chinese people who have moved to America for a better life but also to those who would enjoy a coming of age book, a story of one young girl who doesn't fit in with the American high school stereotypes.
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on 25 October 2010
This book is extremely readable, and is what I'd describe as a holiday read, i.e. something to read at the poolside, with not too much thought or effort needed. If that's the kind of book you are looking for then I would definitely recommend it.

However, if you are looking for something deeper and meatier this is not the book for you. The really important issues that this book deals with (the language and cultural issues that immigrants have to deal with, and the conditions people working in sweatshops encounter) are dealt with in a lightweight manner. I didn't really feel the book conveyed a realistic portrayal of people living and working in these communities, and there were several side storylines which started up and sounded really interesting, but then they fizzled out into nothing.

It didn't make me want to read Jean Kwok's next book. Overall I found it ok, but slightly disappointing.
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on 12 September 2010
I thought this was a beautifully written novel and I throughly enjoyed it, staying up till 4:30am and finishing it in one go.

It tells the story of a young chinese girl and her mother who move to New York from Hong Kong with the assistance of her Auntie who moved to America years earlier.
Once they have arrived however they find that life in the US is not what they had anticipated, living in squalid conditions, working in a sweatshop, paying off debts.
The story is written from the perspective of the protaganist, Kim, but also details the life of her mother, her auntie and cousin, some of the other sweatshop workers and her peers at school.
The story is often harrowing, but the prose and style prevents it from becoming too maudlin, and there is a sense of hope that pervades.

I would recommend this book, although it does not always make for pleasant reading it is written very well and is largely believeable.
People who enjoy this may also enjoy The Calligrapher's Daughter
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