When my friend L invited me to drive to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to hear Jean Kwok reading from her debut novel, "Girl in Translation," I didn't know what to expect. I confess, I do not keep up with new writers like I should, and I find most of the time, my year of writing dangerously has more to do with just keeping my head above water and trying to keep my sanity "normal"---or what I have come to know as normal anyway.
Let me just say, I can see why the reviews were so stellar.
Kwok has such an intense command of the language--the detail, the emotion, the description--and yet somehow manages to do this without making the writing sound 'thick' or overtly 'heavy' [for what I mean by 'thick' writing, look at Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again."].
The few excerpts she read showed a depth of emotion without being sentimental, a story that moves without sacrificing setting and detail, and vivid description that does not weigh down the pace of the story.
In short, pretty near darn perfect.
Background: "Girl in Translation" is about a young girl from China who comes to live in the US and it follows her transition as she adjusts to the language and the culture. She goes to school during the day and works in a sweat shop at night. Though not overtly autobiographical, Kwok did say that there were areas of her own life that were closely mirrored in the book.
Her use of first person is effective--if the narrator cannot understand what is said, neither can the reader. She provides a voice that is fresh, genuine, and somewhat lost in the world around her.
And for the record, Ms. Kwok was extremely generous. You never know what you're going to get with writers---the 14 city book tours, though an incredible blessing---can be exhausting, and discussing one's work can easily slide into egotism or esoteric ism [is that a word? Did I use it correctly?]
Kwok was generous, entertaining, kind, enthusiastic, and her genuine joyfulness came through quite clearly. Also, she is so darn intelligent, it's almost scary.
If you've not been to the Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, you're missing out. Thanks to my friend L who invited me and took me to Tripps for dinner.
And my creative contributions for the evening?
I did enter a short short story contest. They had a contest at the bookstore, where you had to submit a one page story about a high school reunion--fact or fiction. I turned mine in. I feel pretty good about it. It was fun to write, and I've learned if I have fun with it, my reader will as well...I'd print it here, but I may send it to some contests, so I'm not sure if blogs technically count as publication [most contests limit themselves to unpublished short stories].
Oh, I did write a haiku about my dessert at Tripps. It was a chocolate something that was better than Robert Redford.
I forget the details, but it is something like:
Cascading down my hot spoon
Back off! Get your own.
In short, two things to check out: Jean Kwok's "Girl in Translation" and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC---if you're in town.
I'm going to a Renaissance Faire tomorrow. What a great way to kick off my next post---why I love the Brits....