Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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“I was born with a talent. Not for dance, or comedy, or anything so delightful.  I’ve always had a knack for school.”   — Kim, Girl in Translation

My book club just finished reading Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.  In a nutshell, it was a hit. Sometimes we read a book, talk about it for five minutes, and then get sidetracked into other conversation.  However, this book had us talking.  This story of a young girl and her mother coming to the United States from China to seek a better life, is thought-provoking in the irony of what they actually encounter.  I don’t come from a part of the country that encounters many immigrants, nor do we see the kind of poverty that large cities do, so the conditions that this young girl faces are shocking.  So, you probably realize that Kim is not coming to the America she and her mother envision.  They endure hardship beyond measure, and one cannot help but be slightly remorseful for the luxuries we take for granted each day.  However, the story runs its course in a way that makes the reader realize that the American dream still exists for Kim, in that she eventually overcomes the oppression of her youth, takes advantage of the kindness of good people, and uses her natural talents to ultimately shine.  This is a quick read, but it will open your eyes and make you wonder why you ever complain about anything in your comfortable little life.  If you are going to choose this book for your reading group here are some ideas for bringing the book to your group:

1.  Serve hot tea and won-ton soup, both are featured in the novel.

2. Decorate the table with Chinese inspired china, tray and/or linens.

3.  As a favor for your guests, give them a Kuan Yin charm which can be purchased inexpensively from online bead stores.  In the novel, Matt wears this necklace every day. In the Chinese culture and the Buddhist culture, The Kuan Yin is known to bring health and good fortune to anyone who carries it. The novel says, “The Kuan Yin was carved with a multitude of arms, each hand holding a different tool.  People call her the goddess with an infinite number of arms to help all those in need.” (174) However in the end, Matt ends up giving his necklace to Kim as a way to pass this protection on to her.  Or you can use images of the Kuan Yin to make small notecards or  bookmarks for your guests.  (The image of this Kuan Yin is from: