Book review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation by Jean KwokGirl in Translation: What it is about

From the publishers: “When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly 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 herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic American immigrant novel—a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.”

Girl in Translation: What I thought

I read Jean Kwok’s newer book, Mambo in Chinatown, a few months ago. I loved it so much that no matter what the to-read pile was like, this was the book I wanted to read next! It was as good, or probably even better than Mambo.

I love stories about people in dire situations who manage to make something of their life. In this case, I wondered how far from the truth this story was. It was a very credible story of a Chinese mother and daughter being exploited to the max in a country where they didn’t know the language nor the law. Yes, I can believe in child labor in the US, when the inspector isn’t looking, or people living in uninhabitable places.

I met Jean Kwok this year with the promotion of her new book. She is a resident of Amsterdam, speaks very good Dutch, and is a wonderful person to talk to. She explained how Mambo was partially based on her own experiences, and no doubt this first book also bears on her own life as a young person in America.

Very interesting and satisfying to read. A feel-good book that makes you think: Kimberley achieves a lot, but at what price?

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 320

First published: 2011

I got this: from the library

Genre: Contemporary fiction


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

8 Responses to Book review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

  1. Marjorie says:

    I loved this book and I even bought one to send to my sister, thanks for the review.

  2. Sounds very good! I’ll definitely check it out. Good review!

  3. I’m ashamed to admit this book has been patiently waiting to be read on my shelf for at least two years now! Your review makes me want to read it now all over again.

  4. Mystica says:

    This author has been on my wishlist for ages. This sounds very good.

  5. Laurie C says:

    I didn’t know the author lived in Amsterdam! One of our library book clubs almost selected Mambo in Chinatown recently; maybe I can talk them into choosing it for an upcoming meeting.

  6. bibliosue says:

    I enjoyed this book as well but I haven’t yet got to Mambo in Chinatown. Happy New Year!

  7. Great review. I am thinking I read this a while back, now I have to check 🙂

  8. Pingback: One Lovely Blog Award Number 4!!! | Justina Luther~ Welcome to My Imagination

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