The Kinship of Secrets: Book summary and reviews of The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

The Kinship of Secrets

by Eugenia Kim

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim X
The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2018
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

From the author of The Calligrapher's Daughter comes the riveting story of two sisters, one raised in the United States, the other in South Korea, and the family that bound them together even as the Korean War kept them apart.

In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges they know will face them, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.

But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn't remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?

Told through the alternating perspectives of the distanced sisters, and inspired by a true story, The Kinship of Secrets explores the cruelty of war, the power of hope, and what it means to be a sister.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Included in the Publishers Lunch "Publishing Preview" - Fiction, Emerging Voices
One of Southern Living's "Fall 2018 Book Releases We're Excited to Read"

"Starred Review. [A] heartfelt story, one which will greatly appeal to readers who enjoy the multicultural novels of Lisa See and Amy Tan, stories that enlighten as well as entertain." - Booklist

"This is a stirring novel about family and the sacrifices made to keep it whole." - Publishers Weekly

"Though the novel is quiet and occasionally dense with historical exposition, it offers a valuable window into Korean history as well as to issues like immigration and assimilation that couldn't be more relevant today." - Kirkus

"Beautifully illuminate[s] Korea's past in ways that inform our present...Kim infuses a coming-of-age story about being an outsider with the realities of the war, which forced many family separations, some of which still persist today." - Washington Post

"Eugenia Kim's The Kinship of Secrets is a beautiful allegory of loss and recovery. Through the parallel growth of two separated sisters, Kim bears witness to the fall and rise of a nation and its resilient and generous people. The Kinship of Secrets is a gorgeous achievement." - Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires

"I felt as though I had stepped into a graceful story of two countries, South Korea and America, and family ties that survive the challenges of history." - Krys Lee, author of How I Became a North Korean

"What an extraordinary time to read this heartfelt novel about the bonds of family, set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Eugenia Kim is a masterful storyteller who makes her characters come to life as she spans decades, continents, and cultures." - Jung Yun, author of Shelter

"The Korean War has been called 'the forgotten war' in the West, but Kim's second novel, a powerful narrative about the ways families relentlessly love and protect each other despite immense challenges, is a story that demands to be remembered, along with its history. The Kinship of Secrets is both a meditation on homesickness and celebration of homecoming that made me appreciate the complicated bonds between sisters, between mothers and daughters, and love for relatives that become surrogate parents. A beautiful novel, and a necessary, important story for our times." -Yoojin Grace Wuertz, author of Everything Belongs to Us

"A gripping story of war and immigration, as well as a tender meditation on what it means to be of a family and of a country." - Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody's Daughter

"Two sisters separated by a war and an ocean are at the center of this new novel by Eugenia Kim. In it, one daughter is left behind in South Korea while her family takes her sister to the United States in hopes of building a new life." - Southern Living, "Fall 2018 Book Releases We're Excited to Read"

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Reader Reviews

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Betty T. (Warner Robins, GA)

The Power of Sisters
This beautifully written book is the story of two sisters, only ten months apart in age, separated as toddlers. In 1948 daughter Inja is left in South Korea with her Uncle and Aunt and her grandparents, as her parents Calvin and Najin Cho, along with daughter Miran, move to the United States in search of better opportunities for their family. Their plan to return for Inja is crushed by the outbreak of the Korean War. Thus, Miran grows up under the shadow of a sister she barely remembers, while Inja receives "care packages" from a family she knows little about.

Told through alternating perspectives of the sisters, the story takes the family from 1950 to 1973, thus allowing the reader to observe the growth of Miran and Inja, the impact of the separation on the sisters, and the hardships experienced by the family in South Korea. We also read of the efforts of the Korean community in the United States to ease the burdens of their loved ones in South Korea. While most of the story focuses on the sisters, Ms. Kim also writes of the mother's efforts to acclimate to her new home and the guilt she feels over leaving a daughter behind. In the Author's Note I learned that this story was inspired by the author's life.

The contrast between Inya's and Miran's lives was heart-breaking. One sister had so much, the other struggled. One knew immense love, the other lacked emotional support. Subtle differences between belonging and not belonging – having a mother but not having a mother, having a daughter but not having a daughter, being Korean yet not being Korean. My favorite "take-away" from Ms. Kim's book is the phrase "the charity of secrets". What a beautiful phrase!

I felt the pace was appropriate for a story that covers this range of years taking the sisters from their toddler years to their mid-20's. It was interesting observing the development of their personalities, each reflecting a blend of their culture and their environment. Also as the sisters mature, family secrets are revealed. I loved reading about the beauty of the Korean culture and its emphasis on family. I also learned a bit about the Korean War and now understand why it is called "The Forgotten War".

I enjoyed Ms. Kim's writing so much I just ordered her previous book "The Calligrapher's Daughter". She wrote of the difficulty of everyday life during the time of war, family ties, humor in the darkest of times, and the love between sisters.

Joanne W. (Ossining, NY)

Family love
Sweeping story of family love, secrets and survival. This would be a great book for book clubs with so many themes to discuss. It's a story of sisters who are unknown to each other because of distance, language and culture. They are brought together as teenagers and come to have a beautiful, loving relationship. It's a story of multigenerational families and the influence of war and struggle over time. There is first love, friendship and the closeness of loving relatives. I enjoyed and was touched by the book and highly recommend.

Elizabeth P. (Erlanger, KY)

A Fine Wine
Some books are like a rich dessert or a fine wine. They need to be savored slowly to be truly appreciated. The Kinship of Secrets is such a book. Eugenia Kim's characters are flawed and complex. They are brave in the face of war but fearful of family secrets. Cultures and traditions clash as two sisters, separated by the Korean War, struggle to find commonality as well as their own personalities when they are finally reunited. It is a painful story, beautifully told.
Book clubs will find a wealth of topics to discuss: parent-child relationships; sibling bonds and conflicts; the role of secrets within families; the bonds of friendships; and the difficulty of transition from one culture to another.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves language, powerful storytelling, and well-developed characters.

Kay K. (Oshkosh, WI)

A Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim
Sometimes keeping secrets is the best way to love another person. In A Kinship of Secrets, Inja is left behind in Korea with her Grandmother and Uncle. Her parents take their other daughter, Miran with them to the United States. They mean to be away for only a couple of years. But the years turn into many and we see the contrast in the way that Inja and her sister are raised. It would seem that the daughter left behind would be the one with identity and confidence issues, but it is Miran who never feels she fits in. The contrast between the ways of life are strikingly different but at the same time very similar. There are layers of secrets that family members keep. When Inja finally is brought to the United States she is heartbroken, but she has been raised with an inner strength and she thrives. The secrets that Inja keeps give her that strength. The two very different girls become true sisters. It isn't until Miran returns to Korea that she also finds her true self. This book was interesting, thought provoking, and hopeful. It would be great for a book club discussion. I found it even more intriguing because it was based on true events in the author's own life. Learning about Korean life was also a plus.

Diana S. (Hallandale, FL)

Great and interesting reading
This is my first read by this author! I plan to read it again. This has so much information (cultural and historical) about Korea and the Korean War. The writing and characters are engaging and the story flows. Miran and Inja are two beautiful characters. The differences in childhood lead to a very interesting contrast when they both live in the US and they encounter cultural clashes.

Julie P. (Fort Myers, FL)

The Kinship of Secrets, by Eugenia Kim
With so many books written about World War II, it was refreshing to read one about a lesser known conflict, the Korean War. Maybe refreshing is not the appropriate word to describe a conflict that tears a nation apart, divides its citizens, and involves the United States in yet another war. Sisters Miran and Inja grow up apart, in different cultures and countries, one raised by a minister father and unsentimental mother in America, the other by a loving uncle and bickering aunt in war-torn, then divided Korea. Family secrets, struggles, and loss unite and divide both families, resulting in a fascinating look at American and Korean cultures in the 1950s - 1970s. The story dragged a bit in the middle third, but overall was a well-written and gripping account of the sacrifices family members make for each other. There's plenty here for book groups to discuss. Also of interest, the author based this novel on the experiences of her own family.

...12 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Eugenia Kim Author Biography

Eugenia Kim's debut novel, The Calligrapher's Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a critics' pick by The Washington Post. Her stories have appeared in Asia Literary Review, Washington City Paper,Eclectic Grace: Fiction by Washington Area Women, and elsewhere. Kim teaches Fairfield University's MFA Creative Writing Program and lives in Washington, DC.

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