Nicole Chung grew up in a white family in small-town Oregon, unable to fit in, "the only Korean most of my friends and family knew, the only Korean I knew." Her first book, All You Can Ever Know, is a memoir of her experiences as a transracial adoptee and her development of a mature understanding of herself, and of her adoptive and birth families, while becoming a parent herself.
Chung had loving adoptive parents who never discussed race with her, because they believed that was the right thing to do. "If they did take a 'color-blind' view of our family from its very formation--if they believed my Koreanness was irrelevant within our family, and should be so to everyone else as well--in this they were largely following ideals they were raised with, advice they had been given." She had no words to deal with the racism she encountered as a child. As she grew older, the love and loyalty she felt for her parents coexisted with new realizations of what she had missed. Her childhood fantasies of her biological family were mingled with her sense of abandonment, and the fear that they had given her away because she wasn't good enough. When she became pregnant for the first time, she collected what fragments of information she had and set out to contact them.
When she did, she found a new set of difficult and sometimes contradictory stories. She connected with her biological sister Cindy, whose childhood had been at least as painful as her own. "From the time I was young, I had assumed that the same truth that freed me would also free my birth family--that the rush of air and light sweeping away the secrets would come as a relief to all of us. If I learned one thing in the early days of our reunion, it was that I could not compel another person to feel comforted, to feel whole, to forgive themselves. The peace I'd wanted so badly to give my birth parents, all along, was never in my power to give."
Chung creates a suspenseful story with her avalanches of questions and unexpected discoveries, and her hard-won insights into the nature of identity. She has many thoughts about adoption, but this is also an emotional and level-headed book about the rewards of questioning family expectations in order to come to terms with the complicated truth. --Sara Catterall
Shelf Talker: A Korean American woman's moving memoir of her experience as a transracial adoptee and her reconnection with her birth family.