Dear Book Club Member, When I look back on where I started in this country – a little Chinese girl struggling to understand English, let alone read or write it, and helping her family labor in a Chinatown sweatshop – it’s difficult for me to believe my great fortune now. To be writing a letter to book club members, about my own book! I am so grateful to have my work of fiction, which was in some ways informed by my own family’s story, receive attention from devoted book readers like you. Though I was slow to get started, once I did learn to read English, I fell in love with books of all kinds, and I was struck by the way that a novel, like no other medium, can really put you in the head of another person. That’s what I most wanted to do with this book, to put the reader into the head and heart of a Chinese immigrant. Of course I wanted to tell the more personal story of Kimberly Chang too: her story of coming to America with her mother only to start their lives over again, her falling in love with a boy who is simultaneously all right and all wrong, and the choices she must make for herself and for her family. But most of all I wanted to give English-speaking readers the experience of seeing the world through the eyes of an immigrant, and hearing English as something muddled, a barrier. I wanted to let you feel what it's like to be intelligent, thoughtful and articulate in your own language, but to come across as ignorant and uneducated in English. I wanted to share this, because that is what it is like for thousands of immigrants every day, and that is what it is still like for my mother.
It’s my greatest hope that my novel will make you not only fall in love with Kimberly Chang, but also understand how wise and funny characters like Ma and Matt really are in their own cultures. I’ve tried to honor my own mother with this book, and to give voice to all the working-class first generation immigrants who have had to work so hard and make such difficult choices for their families. I feel unbelievably lucky to have the time and space and education to write about it, and to be given the chance to reach out to readers like you. Thank you!
Girl In Translation
A sheet of melting ice lay over the concrete. I watched my rubber boots closely, the way the toes slid on the ice, the way the heels splintered it. Ice was something I had only known in the form of small pieces in red bean drinks. This ice was wild ice, ice that defied streets and buildings. "We are so lucky that a spot in one of Mr. N.'s buildings opened up," Aunt Paula had said as we drove to our new neighborhood. "You will have to fix it up, of course, but real estate in New York is so expensive! This is very cheap for what you're getting." I could hardly sit still in the car and kept twisting my head, looking for skyscrapers. I didn't find any. I longed to see the New York I had heard about in school: Min-hat-ton, glistening department stores, and most of all, the Liberty Goddess, standing proud in New York Harbor. As we drove, the highways turned into impossibly broad avenues, stretching out into the distance. The buildings became dirtier, with broken windows and English writing spray-painted over the walls. We made a few more turns, passing people who were waiting in a long line, despite the early hour, and then Uncle Bob parked next to a three-story building with a boarded-up storefront. I thought he was stopping to make a pick-up of some sort, but then everyone had gotten out of the car onto the icy pavement. The people in line were waiting to go into the doorway to our right, with a sign that said "Department of Social Services." I wasn't sure what that was. Almost everyone was black. I'd never seen black people before and a woman near the front, whom I could observe most clearly, had skin as dark as coal and gold beads gleaming in her cloud-like hair. Despite the frayed coat she wore, she was breathtaking. Some people were dressed in regular clothes but some looked exhausted and unkempt, with glazed eyes and unwashed hair. "Don't stare," Aunt Paula hissed at me. "You might attract their attention." I turned around and the adults had already unloaded our few possessions, which were now piled by the boarded-up storefront. We had three tweed suitcases, Ma's violin case, a few bulky packages wrapped in brown paper, and a broom. There was a large wet spot at the bottom of the front door. "What is that, Ma?" She bent close and peered at it. "Don't touch that," Uncle Bob said from behind us. "It's pee." We both sprang backwards. Aunt Paula laid a gloved hand on our shoulders. "Don’t worry, " she said, although I didn't find her expression reassuring. She looked uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed. "The people in your apartment moved out recently so I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but remember, if there are any problems, we will fix them. Together. Because we are family." Ma sighed and put her hand on top of Aunt Paula's. "Good."
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