Friday, August 29, 2014

Girl in TranslationGirl in Translation by Jean Kwok
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time. (4)

Despite the cold, I was sweating. What if I ran into Mr. Bogart or one of the kids from my class recognized me? I’d never done anything similar before. Like any good Chinese girl, I’d always followed the rules and been glad to be praised by the teachers. But the only alternative was going into Mr. Bogart’s classroom again. I was learning about desperation. (35)

It was freezing during those days I played hooky in the apartment. After skipping school for almost a week, I saw my first snowfall. Flakes came slanting down from the sky and at first, the concrete sidewalk absorbed them like a sponge. I touched the window with my hands, amazed it was cold when it seemed to me that the falling rice should be warm, as if it were a soup. (40)

Ma put aside the skirt and sat down on a stool. She looked at me, “Don’t get too closed to the other children here. Ah-Kim, you must always remember this: If you play with them, learn to talk like them, act like them - what will make you different? Nothing. And in ten or twenty years, you’ll be doing precisely what the older girls are doing, working on the sewing machines in this factory until you’re worn, and when you are too old for that, you’ll cut thread like Mrs. Wu.” (44)

Even stuffed into my clothes, like a lump of sticky rice tied in bamboo leaves, I was still freezing. (49)

“Without my violin, I’d forget who I was.” (Ma) (108)

I did try to ask Ma about wildlife conservation when we had to read an article on it for classes.
“Why would anyone want to save animals like tigers?” she’d asked, baffled. She looked sad. “A baby in our old village in China was taken by one.” (120)

In a way I gave myself the excuse of not even trying to get close to the others because I knew I couldn’t be a part of their lives. I still had my responsibilities at the factory, but even without that, Ma wouldn’t have allowed me to go out anyway. That wasn’t what nice Chinese girls from her background did. (134)

“No, let’s meet earlier. I can get some bears,” Greg said.
While they discussed the logistic of their evening, my mind whirled. A show that started at midnight. And some bears? Then I realized he had to mean the alcoholic drink, beer. (134)

After the dusty, physical work of the factory, the scientific world created a clear and logical paradise where I could feel safe. Just for pleasure, I had started reading library books about subjects we’d touched upon in school: amino acids, mitosis, prokarytoes, DNA forensic, karyotyping, monohybrid crosses, endothermic reactions. And mathematics was the only language I truly understood. It was pure, orderly and predictable. It gave me great satisfaction to work on mathematical puzzles and forget about my real life at the apartment and factory. (158)

“Brains are beautiful,” I said. (213)

But sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves. (249)

‘A bamboo door needs a bamboo door and a metal door needs a metal door.’ (255)

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