Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book review : Girl in Translation - Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation is the enchanting tale of Kimberley Chang, eleven years old and freshly arrived in New York from Hong Kong with her mother. Neither of them speak more than a few words of English, they have no money and the "caring" Aunt Paula who is supposedly looking out for them and helping them to settle into their new life would be perfectly cast in the role of one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters. The only part of the Big Apple accessible to them is the rotten, maggoty core so they end up in a horrifically insalubrious appartment, full of mice and cockroaches, where the broken windows taped up with rubbish bags let in air cold enough to make the soy sauce freeze over.

Aunt Paula "kindly" puts her niece and sister to work in her clothing factory, working long hard hours for ridiculous pay. I've often wondered where the term "sweatshop" comes from but this book makes it all too clear - the horrific conditions, the child labour, the inevitable injuries and the exploitation all make tough reading because it is so realistic.

Despite a cast of characters who make you want to line them all up and slap them - a sneering unhelpful teacher, pupils with their nasty taunts, corrupt factory inspectors, the heartless Aunt Paula - Kimberley uses her intelligence and sheer determination to make a difference and move them on to higher things. Through sheer guts, hard work and willpower, Kimberley starts making the American Dream come true.

But the problem with making more and more doors open for yourself is that you have to start making choices and sometimes, it's hard to know if you've made the right ones. Being forced to choose between your dreams of success and the man you love is a tough call and I read the final chapters with a huge lump in my throat.

The book reminded me at times of Angela's Ashes, in the poignant descriptions of extreme poverty and dire hardship, and of Forrest Gump, in the tale of the underdog coming out on top and overcoming all odds. Your heart will be by turns warmed and broken as you follow the narrative of Ah-Kim's life. The insight into the Chinese way of life and mentality add a whole new level to the text, and I couldn't help but wonder how much is actually autobiographical.

It's a powerful read that cannot leave you unmoved and I wouldn't be surprised to see this turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, along the lines of Slumdog Millionaire.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £8.99 (but £5.64 on amazon)

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Penguin (2 Jun 2011)
ISBN-10: 0141042745
ISBN-13: 978-0141042749
Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm

Other reviews you may be interested in :


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...