Girl in Translation


Jean Kwok

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Girl in Translation: Prologue Summary & Analysis

The adult narrator, Kim, explains that she was born with a talent for school. School was only difficult for her as she was learning English right after immigrating to the U.S. She notes that in Chinese, there's a saying that the fates dictate people's lives and urge them along; strong people can fight those winds, while the weak have no choice. Kim says she feels as though her life has been dictated more by her decisions, though she's spent her life longing for those things she couldn't have—and her decisions have led her far away from those desires.
Kim's nuanced and thoughtful interpretation of Chinese beliefs suggests that at least at this point, she's no longer traditionally Chinese. By beginning the novel with the assertion that Kim is really only good at school, it shows that education and schooling will be extremely important to the novel and likely are major factors in the decisions she speaks of here.
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Kim stands outside a Chinatown bridal shop, watching a little girl sitting by a mannequin in the window. She thinks that this isn't the life she wanted for her child. She knows that the little girl will learn to make the dresses herself when she's old enough, and will do nothing else. Both Kim and the girl look up when the girl's father walks into the shop. Kim feels as though her heart is breaking again, and she wonders if she was ever as beautiful as this man's child. There's only one photo to answer this question: her school photo from her first year in America. She ripped the photo up at one point, but saved the pieces. Recently, Kim rediscovered the pieces and put them back together. Despite the shoddy clothes and bad haircut, Kim can see hope and ambition in her young eyes.
When Kim compares her school photo to the looks of this little girl, it suggests that she doesn't necessarily see beauty and ambition as qualities that are particularly related to each other. Her note that this little girl will likely grow up to do nothing but make wedding gowns introduces the reader to the concept of the factory cycle of life, in which people become trapped in the system as children and never make enough money to escape. This also implies that Kim escaped this life. Further, note that Kim briefly thinks of the girl as her own child—this will later give a clue as to the girl’s identity.
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