sunnuntai 8. heinäkuuta 2012

Jean Kwok: Girl in Translation

I was born with a talent. Not for dance, or comedy, or anything so delightful. I've always had a knack for school. Everything that was taught there, I could learn: quickly and without too much effort. [...] This is not to say that my education was always easy for me. When Ma and I moved to the U.S., I spoke only a few words of English, and for a very long time, I struggled.

Girl in Translation has been read and praised in many Finnish book blogs, especially last year when its translation, Käännöksiä, was published. This book was on my To-Be-Read list for a long time before I finally bought it and read it. Although the book is - as its name implies - about translations and translating, I wanted to read it as the untranslated, original English version.

The novel tells the story of Kim Chang and her mother, who immigrate to New York from Hong Kong. They are given the chance to start a new life in a new country, thanks to a seemingly helpful relative. But the promised land isn't all it's made up to be - as Kim and her mother discover soon enough. They have to live in a shabby apartment with no heating and a broken window. Both of them have to work inhumane hours in their relative's factory to pay for their trip to America and their rent. And 11-year-old Kim, who speaks only basic English, has to go to a local school that doesn't understand her language problems let alone her difficulties to become adjusted to a new culture.

I think that Girl in Translation is a pretty typical, 'through-hardships-to-the-stars' immigration story where foreign immigrants moving to the U.S. pursue the "American dream". They struggle through difficulties and finally, through hard work and persistence, become well-adjusted, integrated, happy citizens - at least in an ideal situation. But one could also argue that there is something wrong with a system that fails to recognize struggling immigrants like Kim and her mother. Why doesn't the school help Kim as she obviously had language difficulties in the beginning? Why doesn't anyone care where Kim and her mother live or work? The novel certainly doesn't paint a very positive picture of the social security system or integration procedure of the country. Kim and her mother are left very much alone and receive very little support from their new environment.

I enjoyed reading the novel, although it was a bit predictable. Kim seemed almost too perfect, too successful at school to be a believable character. She's always acing her exams, excelling in all her subjects, positively surprising her teachers and herself again and again, obtaining scholarships, passing entrance exams etc. etc. The novel seems to idolize academic achievement and intelligence (it actually sort of reminds me of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in this respect!) Afterwards, I was left with the question: what if Kim had not been a scientific genius, but an ordinary, average student (as presumably most immigrants' children are)? Would the story have been less happy, but perhaps more realistic?

Last but not least, I have to say that the book covers of Girl in Translation are all beautiful! Except the last one from Denmark is a bit strange... :)

Cover: Lisa Fyfe (Finnish hardcover)
Cover: Getty Images (English paperback)
Dutch hardcover
Dutch paperback
Danish hardcover
Jean Kwok: Girl in Translation. Penguin. 2010.
Wikipedia: Jean Kwok

** So American -haasteen kategorioihin Immigrant Background (1/3 suoritettu) ja Modern Women Writers (4/5 suoritettu) **

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