Monday, October 7, 2019

The Kinship of Secrets

Title:  The Kinship of Secrets
Author:  Eugenia Kim
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1328987825 / 978-1328987822

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On a chilly summer night, a newsmonger trudged uphill to a residential enclave of Seoul, the last neighborhood on his route."

Favorite Quote:  "... change happens with the slip of a word ... and one's view of the past and future were mutable."

War divides families in so many ways. This has been a reality through history and continues to be a reality for so many throughout the world. It is in fact the reality of the author's family. This fiction is written based on Eugenia Kim's own family history - modified and fictionalized but, at the heart of it, true.

Korea was divided into two sovereign nations in 1948, the point at which this book begins. The Korean War began in 1950 and ended in 1953 although technically no peace treaty has ever been signed. Technically, the war still goes on.

This book tells the story of a family - specifically, two sisters - divided and then reunited. In 1948, Najin and Calvin Cho leave South Korea for the United States. The seek better opportunities and leave with the hope of one day coming back. They are parents to two daughters - Miran and Inja. They take Miran with them and leave Inja behind with extended family. The decision is based on practicalities - health, travel, and economics. Even more so, perhaps, it is promise to return.

In alternating chapters, this book tells the story of Miran and Inja. Miran grows up, safe and secure in the United States. Yet, she faces the challenges of a first generation immigrant. She is also continually in the shadow of the sister left behind and aware of her parents' sorrow. Inja survives the harrowing years of the war; she grows up poor and at risk but always loved. It takes years, but finally at age sixteen, Inja is reunited with her parents. At this point, her parents and sister are not the family she knows, and the United States is not the culture she knows. That brings with it its own transition and challenges.

As is common with books that alternate perspectives, one side of the story calls to me more so. In this case, it is the Inja's story. Hers is the story of war, survival, and the immigrant experience. It is the story of the child left behind and then of the child separated from all that she knows and thrust into a new culture and a new life. She is always surrounded by love and yet faces hardship after hardship. Miran's story is the quieter one also of the immigrant experience and also of a child who grows up knowing that her parents' life is not complete with just her. She sees a longing in her parents for her sister that, in her thoughts, sometimes surpasses the love they show her.

The one jarring note in this book is the ultimate secret of why the Najin and Calvin take Miran and leave Inja behind. To me, that history becomes an unnecessary distraction from the heartbreaking choice to leave a child behind. It creates a difference between the two sisters that undermines that choice by placing an external burden on it. It is an unneeded note in an otherwise powerful and moving book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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