Alison's book review - Kinship of Secrets
I recently read and enjoyed The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim. The book tells the story of Miran and Inja, sisters who were raised on opposite sides of the globe. When Calvin and Najin Cho move to America for Calvin’s job, they bring their older daughter, Miran, with them and leave their younger daughter, Inja, with Najin’s extended family in Korea. They had planned to return to Korea, but war breaks out on the peninsula, making it impossible.
In alternating chapters, we learn about the girls’ lives and upbringings. Miran loses the Korean she spoke as a young child. Calvin is fluent in English, but Najin is not as comfortable with the language. Due to this barrier, Miran does not connect with her mother. She feels neither American enough nor Korean enough. She wants to live the life of an American youth and rebels against her mother’s constraints. She does not know the circumstances that led to her family’s separation.
When Inja is young she struggles with her situation—having parents but not having them. As she grows older, she appreciates her grandparents, Uncle (she does not particularly care for her “mean” Aunt), and cousin. She cares for her grandmother’s frostbitten feet each night and shares a bed with her, just as her mother did many years ago. She values the time she spends with her uncle, who is grateful for her presence in his life. She asks questions and receives answers as to why her parents left her behind and about her family’s history—a history that includes Miran but is unknown to her.
Even after the war, the Chos cannot return to Korea due to cost and politics, but they work to bring Inja to them. As a teenager, Inja is forced to leave the home and people she knows and loves. Upon reuniting with her parents and sister in the United States, Inja must learn a new language, new culture, and to love a new family. Miran must adjust to having a sister and the new dynamics it brings to her family and school experience.
The book is more than the narrative of two sisters raised a world apart and reunited. It is a window into the Korean experience. It explores the effects of choices, the effects of war, and the effects of secrets—both kept and shared.