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May 12, 2011
Friday, March 25th of this year was the 100th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York that killed 146 young female workers. This tragedy propelled reforms in the labor conditions of these sweatshops with laws enacted to protect workers. However, sweatshops even for legal immigrants are not necessarily a thing of the past as Jean Kwok relays in her memoir largely based on her life 'Girl In Translation' which has just come out in paperback.
Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia.
Her debut novel Girl in Translation (Riverhead, 2010) became a New York Times bestseller. It has been published in 15 countries and chosen as the winner of an American Library Association Alex Award, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, an Orange New Writers' title, an Indie Next Pick, a Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award nominee and the winner of Best Cultural Book in Book Bloggers Appreciation Week 2010. It was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. The novel was a Blue Ribbon Pick for numerous book clubs, including Book of the Month, Doubleday and Literary Guild. Jean lives in Leiden, in the Netherlands. with her husband and two sons. She talks here with KGNU's Claudia Cragg.