Jean Kwok wass guest host of #LitChat at 4 p.m. E.T. on July 27, 2015. Read the chatscript here.
From Jean Kwok, the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, comes Mambo in Chinatown, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works— miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. When Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds— eastern and western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
Jean Kwok’s work has been published in 17 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She has been selected for many honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers. Jean’s writing has been featured in Time, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, People, Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.
Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood while living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment. In between her undergraduate degree at Harvard and MFA in fiction at Columbia, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats, and is working on her next novel.
Photo of Jean Kwok by Chris Macke.
Follow Jean Kwok on Twitter: @JeanKwok.