Kim and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to the United States believing that they will have a better life. They are sponsored by her mother's sister, Paula, and her husband. The life she describes is not just hard but unjust and cruel.
Because of the cultural and language barriers, Kim and her mother don't know how to fight for themselves. They let Paula dictate their lives, thinking she is doing the best she can. They live in an apartment in Chinatown infested with mice and roaches and have no heat during the cold winters. Kim's mom works at the garment factory being paid by the piece (which is illegal) and in order to meet her quota, Kim must come every day after school and help. They even take work home in the evenings and on weekends.
Kim is very intelligent, but it's hard for her teachers to tell because of the language. She's working very hard to improve that. She's resourceful and hardworking, thank goodness. Her aunt not only withholds money for their rent, but also they must pay her back for getting them to the US and for medication she paid for to cure Kim's mother's tuberculosis. They barely have enough to subsist.
It is very important to Kim to keep her situation a secret from the one friend she has and from the school authorities. It is such a horrible, no-win situation. I can't believe Kim ended up persevering in the end, because that's what made this worth reading. And the fact that she's so gifted is what made it possible. I'm heartbroken for those that have been in this situation or are still in this situation and never get out. It's hard to think about. I feel very lucky and also inadequate.
Kwok emigrated from Hong Kong when she was young and worked in a sweat shop with her family, so she writes from experience and it shows. Girl in Translation is very readable and engaging and should be widely read. I'll do my best to get it into as many hands as I can.
Published by Riverhead Books, 2011
Copy obtained from the library
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