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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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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 5, 2019, 304 pages

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Power Reviewer
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.
Ruthie A. (New York, NY)

Thought provoking, moving novel!
I really loved this story of a Korean family who emigrates to the U.S, leaving one child behind. The author does an excellent job of showing us the struggles each family endures; the Korea family faces war, displacement, famine and more. The new Americans deal with assimilation, guilt and regret. Eventually Inja, the daughter who was left behind, is sent for- at age 16 - and the family must learn to be whole again. Inja must assimilate to both American culture and her nuclear family, Miran must learn to be a sister. He parents must move beyond their guilt and belatedly become parents to Inja.

The author, Eugenia Kim, paints a very realistic picture of how each family member copes, first with the separation, then within the newly re-formed family. The emotions of anger, hurt, resentment, fear, guilt and love are all explored and feel true. The background of life in Korea vs life in the USA - where the Korean war was not in the headlines- is also interesting - I always love when I learn stuff!

My favorite parts were reading about Miran and her mother sending care-packages to Korea and what they send provides a snapshot of American culture and also shows how the gifts are sometimes little luxuries, sometimes the means of survival.

The novel is based on Kim's family's true story (modified) and Kim describes how later in life she asked her sister what the experience had been like for her and she used this as the basis of the story. The author provides some background on the history of Korea that was relevant to the novel - very much appreciated!
Karen L. (Wilton, IA)

Couldn't put it down
I read the book in two days. I had trouble putting it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. This book would appeal to many different groups: Korean-Americans, people who enjoy historical fiction, young people, older people who lived through the Korean war and book clubs. I enjoyed the book and it expanded my limited knowledge of the Korean war. I felt the book gained credibility from the author's note at the end of the book when she mentioned her family went through a similar situation. It was also good to read her Korean history. It helped me understand Korea and their history better.

Some possible book club questions: Do you think family secrets add to a family's strength or make it weaker? Does it depend on the secret? Is keeping Miran's adoption secret really better for her? How do you think she will react if she ever finds out? Which sister had the better upbringing and childhood?
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