The Kinship of Secrets

The Kinship of Secrets

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 t...

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Title:The Kinship of Secrets
Author:Eugenia Kim
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Kinship of Secrets Reviews

  • Laura Hill

    The Kinship of Secrets

    Writing: 4 Plot: 4.5 Characters: 5

    An utterly engaging story that follows two sisters as they grow up separately due to the Korean War. When Najin and Calvin leave Korea for America, they bring with them the older sister — Miran — but leave baby Inja behind with her uncle and grandparents. What w

    The Kinship of Secrets

    Writing: 4 Plot: 4.5 Characters: 5

    An utterly engaging story that follows two sisters as they grow up separately due to the Korean War. When Najin and Calvin leave Korea for America, they bring with them the older sister — Miran — but leave baby Inja behind with her uncle and grandparents. What was originally meant to be a 1-2 year absence becomes a 16 year separation as first war and then U.S. immigration policies serve as barriers to reunion. When Inja is finally reunited with her “real” family, she is understandably bereft at being torn from her “real” home and family in Korea.

    Well-written and full of fascinating, well-researched details of life in both locations as seen through the eyes of a young girl growing up. The time frame spans 1950 through 1973. Inja’s life in Korea goes through the terribly difficult war years, the armistice, and reconstruction before she leaves for America. Ten years later she returns and sees yet another Korea - one that is modernizing under the leadership of Park Chung-hee. The focus on individuality and independence in America is contrasted with a more communal priority in Korea. For Inja, “The comfort of being home, her Korean home, came from fulfilling the drive to belong. But this drive also heightened the pain of division when a single small thing marked one as different, such as Inja having a mother but not having a mother; for Uncle, having her as a daughter who was not his daughter; for Miran being Korean yet not being Korean.”

    The role of secrets and the truth in love and family cohesion is a theme throughout the book. A number of painful secrets are kept in order to avoid bringing others pain. Inja has learned and internalized this behavior and reflects on its value: Secrecy is “a way to live in the accumulation of a difficult family history, a way that was a profound expression of love.” When Inja thinks of the many secrets she keeps, she thinks: “These were all precedents that venerated keeping secrets from her mother as being rituals of love.”

    This book is genuine and full of insights. It’s a great opportunity to learn history through the eyes of people who have lived it and culture through the eyes of people who embody it. The story appears to be loosely based on aspects of the author’s family which is probably responsible for the natural and honest feel of the prose. While full of feeling, the book is not overly dramatic which I appreciate. For those who enjoyed Pachinko, I found this to be a complementary narrative that further fleshes out Korean culture and history. A great read.

  • Theresa Smith Writes

    ‘This novel is a fiction derived from the facts of my family’s life, and especially my sister’s life, during and after the Korean War, the fifth deadliest war in human history, also known as “the forgotten war”.’ – Author notes.

    This novel has impressed me so much more than I could have ever anticipated. It’s a delicate balance of clear expression and deeply moving prose, a story that is quite honestly, unforgettable. And the fact that it is based for the most part on the author’s own family, mak

    ‘This novel is a fiction derived from the facts of my family’s life, and especially my sister’s life, during and after the Korean War, the fifth deadliest war in human history, also known as “the forgotten war”.’ – Author notes.

    This novel has impressed me so much more than I could have ever anticipated. It’s a delicate balance of clear expression and deeply moving prose, a story that is quite honestly, unforgettable. And the fact that it is based for the most part on the author’s own family, makes it even more impacting. Some might wonder why, with so much truth embedded into the narrative, the author didn’t write this story as a memoir. Personally, I feel that fiction offers more creative power to most stories, provided you can strike the right balance between truth and narrative, which Eugenia Kim does with a deft hand.

    ‘Forgive me, Lord, if in the darkest places hidden deep in my heart – hidden even from my own sincerity – there should reside the thought that I have brought the wrong daughter to America.’

    The Kinship of Secrets tells the story of two sisters growing up apart. One with her parents in America, the other in South Korea with her extended family made up of her uncle, aunt, and grandparents. The story begins at the outbreak of the Korean War, when the girls are aged three and four years old, and spans through until they are in their mid-twenties. It seems at first unbelievable that a couple would migrate to another country and only take one daughter. As a mother myself, I found this intensely unsettling. Yet, I was unable to reproach Najin, because her loss and sacrifice was so profound. Times were so different, it was no simple matter of hopping on an aeroplane and travelling in comfort like we do today. As reprehensible as it seemed to leave one child behind, I could understand it intimately, and as more information surrounding the decision and what influenced the choosing of one child over the other came to light, the more I understood, and the more my heart cracked open for Najin.

    ‘Her mind swirled with questions and something dark she didn’t like feeling. Always it was the war. This war, the war before, the one before that. It seemed everyone used it as an excuse for all ills. And perhaps it was.’

    I’ve never read a novel about the Korean War before, so I really appreciated gaining such insight into the politics and the conflict, both during the war and in the unsettled years that followed. I draw back to Eugenia Kim’s effortless writing style, so clear and precise, yet never overloading with facts or politics. I felt like I was fully informed, yet never weighted down. By facts, at least. My emotions were another story! There were so many moments, of horror, of simple joy, of human connection, that impacted me greatly.

    ‘Would she even like her? Something about that thought felt wrong, as if having a sister meant they’d automatically like – and even love – each other. But what if they didn’t?’

    The separation of these sisters is the driving force behind this story as we are eternally moving towards a time when they might meet, when Inja might finally be reunited with the family she has no memory of. The difficulties attached to this were explored fully, most notably the emotional side of it. Inja’s uncle was such a incredibly wonderful man, he was truly inspirational in the way he loved Inja and brought her up on his sister’s behalf with such care. But this of course made it all the more harder for Inja to contemplate ever leaving Korea. She loved Korea: her friends, her school, her family. Everything in America was unknown, most particularly, her sister Miran who spoke no Korean, just as Inja spoke no English. These sisters were not only separated by distance, but by culture. It was quite heartbreaking.

    ‘She was aware of a strange kind of power one gained from holding secrets, and how confidences begat a kind of self-confidence – how the power of secrets required an inner strength and the maturity of discernment to keep them hidden.’

    Inja was a favourite of mine but I did really feel for Miran, a Korean girl who was not Korean, if that makes any sense. She was American, but growing up in the era of the Cold War, shadowed by a mythical sister who had been left behind in Korea, who her mother clearly pined for. Inja was a big part of her life, for fifteen years parcels were sent, she shared so many of her things with Inja, without having ever met her. Their language barrier meant they were unable to even exchange letters. The adjustment period for the sisters when they at last lived together was fraught at times, but lined with sincerity. I loved how they made their way with each other, connected by a fragile thread in the web that made up their family history. This is a novel about strong women, about hardship and sacrifice, about love and honour. It’s about finding yourself when you are lost within circumstances not of your own making. The title is particularly profound, especially with regards to Inga, who became quite the secret keeper within the family. So many themes of culture and family are explored alongside the consequences of war. The Kinship of Secrets is a remarkable novel, magnificent in its execution and profoundly beautiful in its narration. This is one I highly recommend.

    ‘Her mother and grandmother had risen like dragons from the sea floor of a centuries-old, neo-Confucian culture of female oppression. She had been given a tremendous gift of two unique women whose lives – whose Korean lives – had already exemplified for her what she could learn from the burgeoning American feminist crusade.’

    Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for providing me with a copy of The Kinship of Secrets for review.

  • Teresa

    Loved this book - an emotional, based on true life story of a remarkable bond between separated & reunited sisters. Unforgettable. Highly recommend.

  • Tammy

    Even though my father in law was a Korean War veteran, I knew little about this era in time. I love historical fiction and couldn’t wait to read this one! The Kinship of Secrets is the story of a country divided and the sacrifices one family made for a child. Eugenia Kim did an amazing job of bringing Korea and her people to life! I can’t imagine how hard life was for the Korean people during this war. I especially loved the author’s note at the end and what inspired her to write this book!

  • Elyse Walters

    Absorbing the reality affected from ‘one decision’ that changed

    the lives for each family member is ‘gut-felt’, ...vividly imagined.

    In time that ‘decision’ will become more clear for two separated sisters - one raised in the U.S. - the other in South Korea - after some adjustment time of re-connecting at age 15.

    Intimacy grows between them through years of loss - and deeper understanding.

    Based on a true story...

    we see what can really happen during migration when two countries are at war...

    The K

    Absorbing the reality affected from ‘one decision’ that changed

    the lives for each family member is ‘gut-felt’, ...vividly imagined.

    In time that ‘decision’ will become more clear for two separated sisters - one raised in the U.S. - the other in South Korea - after some adjustment time of re-connecting at age 15.

    Intimacy grows between them through years of loss - and deeper understanding.

    Based on a true story...

    we see what can really happen during migration when two countries are at war...

    The Korea War - sadly doesn’t look much more frightening than current news today.

    The writing is simplistic...‘mostly’ narrated through the children’s voices.

    Not a long book - easy comfortable reading style -

    Tender and one easily remembered.

  • Linda

    The value of love comes to the surface on the waves of separation.

    Eugenia Kim presents her heartheld story which unfolds in a small village in South Korea in 1948. The country is teeming with unrest and movement to safer zones prompts families to take on challenges never planned nor envisioned.

    Najin and Calvin Cho must make a snap decision to leave their native country for America when their paperwork is finally approved. Calvin has been trained in church ministry and America will provide oppor

    The value of love comes to the surface on the waves of separation.

    Eugenia Kim presents her heartheld story which unfolds in a small village in South Korea in 1948. The country is teeming with unrest and movement to safer zones prompts families to take on challenges never planned nor envisioned.

    Najin and Calvin Cho must make a snap decision to leave their native country for America when their paperwork is finally approved. Calvin has been trained in church ministry and America will provide opportunities for the small family. With heavy hearts, they decide to bring the older daughter, Miran, with them and they leave their infant daughter, Inja, with Najin's family. Their hope is to return to South Korea and bring Inja to America after they are settled.

    But fate has other plans for this family as it often does. War breaks out and Najin's extended family must gather only what they can carry and take to the mud-filled roads alongside thousands of other desperate souls. War is the great equalizer that spreads fear and hopelessness among the fortunate and the unfortunate. Bombs destroy and leave desolation from house to house regardless of the inhabitants. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

    Young Miran grows up in the suburbans in America never touched directly by war. She accompanies her mother, Najin, to the post office at least once a week with packages and letters for the South Korean family. Najin wrings her hands in almost uncontrolled desperation waiting to hear if her family and little Inja are still alive. The reality of the situation grabs her forcefully that reunification may be impossible now.

    The Kinship of Secrets reminds us of how futile our plans can be in life. What seems logical and doable in a tighten set of goals may not come to fruition when that scope widens. We will always be at the mercy of the actions and decisions made within that ever-changing current that surrounds us. The Earth tends to shift at times and we must constantly stabilize ourselves to bend and flow to a rhythm not necessarily of our own design.

    Eugenia Kim has carved these characters with quite the adeptness. As readers, we feel the weight of the circumstances laid heavily upon them. We also see the purity of their intentions and the power of their stamina under such drastic situations. Kim does a fine job of switching the story setting from wartorn South Korea to the neighborhoods of America. She will slowly lift the curtain that has been shielding dark family secrets. And light falls upon those most affected by convoluted truths.

    After reading The Kinship of Secrets, I'd like to check out Eugenia Kim's prior novel, The Calligrapher's Daughter. Her writing style is vivid in description and poignant in its telling. I believe that she is one author whose future offerings will certainly be looked forward to. Bravo, Ms. Kim.

  • Angela M

    I was drawn to read Eugenia Kim’s new book because it is a continuation of Najin’s story from

    , which is a beautifully written story depicting the Japanese occupation of Korea. It’s a story based on the author’s family as is

    . Writing of another time in Korea’s history during the Korean War, reflected through her family’s history makes this one so meaningful as well. This time the focus is on Najin’s two daughters with alternating narratives of th

    I was drawn to read Eugenia Kim’s new book because it is a continuation of Najin’s story from

    , which is a beautifully written story depicting the Japanese occupation of Korea. It’s a story based on the author’s family as is

    . Writing of another time in Korea’s history during the Korean War, reflected through her family’s history makes this one so meaningful as well. This time the focus is on Najin’s two daughters with alternating narratives of the two sisters, Miran in America with their mother and father and Inja left in Korea with family. Miran had been sickly as a baby and it was decided to take her to America and then return for Inja. But the reunion of Inja with her family isn’t possible for many years as the war rages on and immigration limitations prevent travel for several years.

    During the years that pass, we come to know the hardships of the war on Inja, her beautiful relationship with her uncle who cares for her as his own, her closeness with her grandparents and it is at times heartbreaking as she tries to understand why she was left behind. Miran feels a connection to her sister in Korea, but doesn’t always understand what is happening there. This is a picture of the Korean War and the strength and love of a family facing the consequences of that war. I don’t want to give more details, but will say that the title perfectly reflects the beauty of this novel, how secrets shared and also secrets kept illustrate the meaning of love. Kim’s love of her family, her respect for the tough decisions they made, her care to understand their history is what this novel is about. This is clear In her ending note, as well as this wonderful interview.

    ,

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through Edelweiss.

  • Elizabeth

    Tl;dr: The Kinship of Secrets is a compelling, interesting book that really sheds light on an important period in Korean history.

    I wanted to read this after a great review for it popped up on my feed--and I'm glad I did!

    The Kinship of Secrets is straightforward but very emotional. In 1948, right before the beginning of the Korean War, Najin and Calvin leave Korea for America. The cost of traveling is expensive and to show their love for Najin's family, and to prove their commitment to returning,

    Tl;dr: The Kinship of Secrets is a compelling, interesting book that really sheds light on an important period in Korean history.

    I wanted to read this after a great review for it popped up on my feed--and I'm glad I did!

    The Kinship of Secrets is straightforward but very emotional. In 1948, right before the beginning of the Korean War, Najin and Calvin leave Korea for America. The cost of traveling is expensive and to show their love for Najin's family, and to prove their commitment to returning, they travel with their younger daughter, Miran, while leaving their older daughter, Inja, with the family.

    Najin and Calvin settle in the suburbs of Washington D. C. and Calvin starts working with Voice of America, Najin starts making kimichi to sell to local businesses and watchrs Miran until she starts school, and then she works fulltime as well. Im addition, both Najin and Calvin are extremely active in their local church. They save as much as they can to bring Inja to America, but the cost is high--and then the Korean War begins.

    I'd studied the Korean War in school, and I am ashamed to admit that it was taught as a short, straightforward war, a small conflict that occurred during the rise of the Iron Curtain snd prior to the more complicated war in Vietnam.

    Well, my teachers were certainly wrong! Though I knew the choice that led to North and South Korea separated families and caused enormous political and social changes in both countries, I never was told (or thought much about--and I should have!) about the way the war created an enormous refugee problem that led not just to extremely difficult living circumstances for many Koreans, but led many Koreans who had left after World War II and who had intended to return/bring family over to them unable to do so.

    As a result of the war, Najin and Calvin are forced to wait--and wait-- to bring Inja over. She ends up spending the first fifteen years of her life living with her grandparents and aunt snd uncle, her parents abstract objects who send packages of goods from America that the family immediately sells for money.

    Inja and her family are forced to flee Seoul during the war and live as refugees until they are able to return, with food and shelter in short supply and confusion about who is winning the war and which side is safest rampant.

    Inja's childhood is quite grim, but she loves her grandparents and adores her uncle, and although readers know that her parents are continually working to bring her to America, and long for her to be with them, Inja gradually starts to see her parents as something so remote she can't even understand the idea of actually seeing them in person.

    In contrast to Inja, Miran grows up in thr bustle and boom of post WWII America, with a comfortable home, and no worries about where her next meal will come from, etc. Interestingly, Miran is hyperaware of her sister. In addition to having to help prepare packages to send to Korea (and act as translator at the post office, as although Miran's Korean is not great, English is her first and best language), her parents are constantly talking about Inja and what will happen when she joins them, with Najin becoming increasingly despondent as the years roll by.

    Thus Inja, although living in a more precarious situation, feels relatively happy because she is devoted to her uncle, who in turn adores her. She is also frequently told family stories that help her realize that family separation (and great sorrow) are all too common, and her separation from her parents fades to an abstract concept.

    Miran, on the othet hand, grows up acutely concious of the family situation and also feels like an outsider, all too aware of the differences between her family's lifestyle and those of her classmates. She wants more than anything to be like everyone else even as she knows it can't happen and is barraged with her mother's constant reminders that as soon as Inja joins them, the family will be complete. This feeling--of being an outsider, and of being part of a family that's defined by who they are without-- defines Miran's first fifteen years and herself.

    By the time the conditions are right for Inja to finally travel to America, she doesn't want to go. She can't picture herself there, can't picture her parents or sister, and wants to stay with the family and life she knows. Her terror, confusion, and feelings of overwhelming despair when she leaves Korea and over the first few months in America are very well done. Inja's bewilderment with (and anger at) her parents (particularly her mother) leaves her feeling lost and alone but she consoles herself with a plan to one day return to Korea and her family there.

    Meanwhile, Miran, who is finally reunited with the sister her parents' lives have revolved around, is happy to have her there, although she still feels like an outsider and wrestles with how confident Inja seems to be, as well as how much praise she earns for everything she does from what seems (to Miran) like everyone.

    The story continues through both Miran and Inja finishing high school, attending college, and eventually living together in New York while Inja continues to plan her return visit to her family in Korea.

    She's finally able to go and persuades Miran to come with her. Once she is back in Korea, she discovers that although it is still and will always be part of her, both she and Korea are different--but that no matter what, she will always define herself as Korean.

    Miran, who still sees and defines herself as an outsider, likes Korea, but can't see herself as being from Korea, or even as being Korean. However, Miran has, to a large extent, accepted and embraced her feeling of being different, becoming active in political and social movements in 1970s America.

    Overall, The Kinship of Secrets is a good read. Miran, Inja, and Najin are all interesting and compelling characters and while all three suffer the consequences of the family separation, Najin's grief for her "missing" daughter and Inja's despair when she realizes she has to leave Korea and fury when she arrives, not just over the new culture she isn't that interested in (at first), but at the parents who insist on love and respect even though she doesn't know them and wants to be with the family she does know and love, in particular, are pretty moving and definitely well written.

    Having said that, those looking for a family saga will be disappointed, as although plenty of space is devoted to Inja and Miran's lives prior to being reunited, once they are, the pace picks up considerably. I liked this--adolescence and early adulthood might go by slow to you while it's happening, but later it seems like loads of major things happened in so, so short a time--but I don't think the pace change from very languid to hyper accelerated is going to be for everyone.

    I thought the ever growing and ever more bleak reveals for why Najin and Calvin chose to take Miran to America instead of Inja were unnecessary and eventually way, way over the top. It's as if Ms. Kim didn't trust that readers would accept the basic premise of the novel and decided, as she wrote, to keeping adding reasons why Miran had to/needed to not only be taken to America but to always see and feel different. It wasn't neccessary and really dragged the book down, especially toward the end.

  • Chandra Claypool (wherethereadergrows)

    Totally going out of my normal reads, when offered the opportunity to read this book, I just couldn't say no. I don't read historical fiction very often but this one that deals with my Korean culture stood out and I'm so glad that I picked this up.

    I'll say again how important it is to read the author's note at the end. I was fascinated to find that the story for this novel derives from the author's family life, especially her sister's, which made the story so much more impactful for me. As a hal

    Totally going out of my normal reads, when offered the opportunity to read this book, I just couldn't say no. I don't read historical fiction very often but this one that deals with my Korean culture stood out and I'm so glad that I picked this up.

    I'll say again how important it is to read the author's note at the end. I was fascinated to find that the story for this novel derives from the author's family life, especially her sister's, which made the story so much more impactful for me. As a half-Korean woman, I have heard stories and have learned a lot about my culture. I couldn't imagine being split up from a sister so long that she is just a stranger to me, and then having a reunion with her and the intricacies of how that relationship ebbs and flows. This reminded me (very) slightly of me and my cousin. We're both only children but grew up together in the same household for years. My dad sponsored my aunt, uncle and cousin to the US and she is older but had very limited English. It was definitely something to get used to - having someone you now have to share a room with, be compared to... teach and yet still learn from.

    As I was reading, I found myself wondering how someone who doesn't know the English language would read the Korean words - even though they're written in "English", the pronunciation would be different for those who know, have heard or have never learned. I heard them loud and clear in my various family members' voices during my read.

    Overall I really liked this book and it really spoke to me. The characters, especially the sisters, are given to us in detail and you really get a sense of what these girls (and their families) are going through. For me personally, I may have needed a little more *something* for this to really resonate and shine. However, I think that just stems from my typically not enjoying this genre because of too much of a history lesson over a story line.

    Anyone who wants a heartfelt story of two Korean girls split up between Korea and the US and their individual plights will surely adore this novel.

    3.5 stars - rounded to 4 for goodreads.

    Thank you to HMH for this copy.

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