What I’m Reading Wednesday

5 Dec


I’ve been trying to stay away from the library. My bookshelf at home is overflowing with books, many of which I have yet to read, including one my husband bought me for Christmas LAST year. At the time when he was doing online shopping I was reading Lisa See’s “Shanghai Girls.” He did some investigative research and bought me the book’s sequel, “Dreams of Joy” and another book “Girl in Translation.”

I finally stayed away from the library long enough to read “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok a couple of weeks ago. Props to my husband for picking not one, but two really good reads for me!

My grandmother was born in Japan and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s when she married my grandfather, an American. She hardly spoke any English and was a mother of four children.

Me and my grandmother on my left with the gold obi.

Me and my grandmother on my left with the gold obi.

I am always fascinated by stories of immigration, especially during the days of Ellis Island. Girl in Translation tells an semi-autobiographical story of a 12-year-old girl, Kimberly, who immigrates to New York from Hong Kong with her mother. Both of them hardly speak a word of English. Her mom finds work at a sweatshop in Chinatown, barely making enough money for them to live off of.

The book is a work of fiction, but includes parts of what the author lived through when she herself immigrated from China and her family worked in a sweatshop. Jean writes a fascinating story of a world that was so real to her but unknown to many.

One element of this novel that really stood out to me is the dialogue with the main character, Kimberly. When she first arrives to the U.S. she can’t really communicate in English and the author writes the dialogue according to what it sounds like to Kimberly. As a reader it’s difficult to understand what people are saying to Kimberly, so I can only imagine trying to communicate in a foreign language every day!

I will admit the ending was a little bit of a disappointment in that I’m always a fan of the good guy gets the girl in the end, but it’s a powerful novel that really makes you grateful for what you have and makes you aware of injustices.

The story is a true rags to riches tale that follows the determined Kimberly as she pursues an Ivy League education to get her mom out of the sweatshop.

I’m not sure when it comes out, but Kwok is working on another novel set in Chinatown and involves some of her experience spent in the professional ballroom dance world.


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