Asian American Women: Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation
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 novel of an American immigrant—a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong, immigrated to Brooklyn when she was five, and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. After entering public elementary school unable to speak a word of English, she was later admitted to Hunter College High School, one of New York City's most competitive public high schools. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia. Kwok has worked as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and has been a professional ballroom dancer, a reader for the blind, a housekeeper, a dishwasher, and a computer graphics specialist for a major financial institution. Her work has been published in Story magazine, Prairie Schooner, Elements of Literature: Third Course, and The Nuyorasaian Anthology.
Co-sponsored by Book Passage