Monday, 3 October 2011
Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok
This is definitely not a happy book. Kim and her Mum go through many hardships, especially during the winter months when they must keep their oven on and the door constantly open to stop their floor from freezing over. They have to raid rubbish bins to find fabric to keep them warm. It's a lonely life as even when Kim becomes more fluent in English, she feels cut off from all of those around her. But Kwok manages to keep the book from being a depressing read by inserting moments of humour, mainly through the phoneticised spellings of English words. When she meets her new teacher for the first time, he says "Our new student, eye-pre-zoom." This really takes the reader into Kim's head and provides much needed light heartedness.
The book is also kept from being too melancholy by Kim's ambition and determination. You always feel that she will succeed and are not surprised when she does. The contrast between the life she lives at home and at the factory compared the world of the elite prep school she gains a scholarship to makes for interesting reading. Kim literally lives a double life, and has many secrets out of necessity, secrets that her friends from both parts of her life would never understand. And because of this, she doesn't really fit anywhere.
I felt as though the real talent in Kwok's novel was how she took me right into the head of Kim, and in this way Girl In Translation reminded me of Pigeon English or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The writing was bare but somehow also descriptive and captured the immigrant experience wonderfully. You end up admiring Kim for her bravery, or at least her sheer determination.
Up until the last chapter and the epilogue, this was hands down one of the best books I've read all year. But unfortunately I felt like the epilogue was unnecessary and some of the plot developments introduced too quickly and without any real reason. I understand that Kwok was trying to make the point that for Kim, happiness would always come with cost, whatever her choices, but I think the novel would have been better left at one of the turning points in her life.
Verdict: Fascinating insight into the mind of a young immigrant in America.
Score: 4.5 out of 5