All You Can Ever Know
by Chung, Nicole






A Korean adoptee who grew up with a white family in Oregon discusses her journey to find her identity as an Asian American woman and a writer after becoming curious about her true origins.





Nicole Chung's memoir, All You Can Ever Know, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, long-listed for the PEN Open Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by nearly two dozen outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, NPR, Time, Newsday, and Library Journal. Chung has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The Atlantic, New York magazine, Longreads, and Hazlitt, among many other publications. She is the editor in chief of Catapult magazine and the former managing editor of The Toast.





Chung's insightful memoir reveals her carefully considered ambivalence about adoption. Born extremely prematurely into a family that had immigrated from Korea, she was adopted by a white couple who lived in a small town in Oregon, where she was one of few nonwhite residents. Often mocked by her classmates, and feeling out of sync with her adoptive family, she clung to a belief that everyone involved was motivated by a desire to give her the best possible life. Once she was married and living on the East Coast, she began to investigate her origins, and she found a more complicated story than the one she had imagined. Her tentative reconciliation with her birth family and the touching bond she formed with her older sister are tempered by her persistent questions about the way her life would have differed had she not been put up for adoption. Chung's clear, direct approach to her experience, which includes the birth of her daughter as well as her investigation of her family, reveals her sharp intelligence and willingness to examine difficult emotions. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.





An essayist and editor's account of her search for and reconnection with the parents who gave her up for adoption.Chung, the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine, had always been obsessed with the Korean birthparents she had never met. Her adoptive mother and father told her a story that emphasized the birthparents' loving selflessness and how "[t]hey thought adoption was the best thing for me." But the "legend" they created was not enough to sate Chung's curiosity about the past or ease her occasional discomfort at being the Korean child of white parents in a largely Caucasian Oregon community. A year after she graduated from college, Chung discovered a way to work around the legalities of what had been a closed adoption to find out more about her birthparents. However, it was not until she became pregnant a few years later that she decided to make contact. Eager to know why she had been given up for adoption but troubled that she was betraying the trust of her adoptive pare nts, the author quietly moved forward with her quest. Much of what she learned—e.g., that she had been born premature and had two sisters—she already knew. Other details, like the fact that her parents had told everyone she had died at birth, raised a host of new questions. Just before Chung gave birth, her sister Cindy made contact. She revealed that their mother had been abusive and that their father had been the one who had decided on adoption. Fear of becoming like her birth mother and anger at both parents gradually gave way to the mature realization that her adoption "was not a tragedy" but rather "the easiest way to solve just one of too many problems." Highly compelling for its depiction of a woman's struggle to make peace with herself and her identity, the book offers a poignant depiction of the irreducibly complex nature of human motives and family ties. A profound, searching memoir about "finding the courage to question what I'd always been told." Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





The story my mother told me about them was always the same.

Your birth parents had just moved here from Korea. They thought they wouldn't be able to give you the life you deserved.

It's the first story I can recall, one that would shape a hundred others once I was old enough, brave enough, to go looking.

When I was very young-three or four, I've been told-I would crawl into my mother's lap before asking to hear it once more. Her arms would have encircled me, solid and strong where I was slight, pale, and freckled against my light-brown skin. Sometimes, in these half-imagined memories, I picture her in the dress she wore in our only family portrait from this era, lilac with flutter sleeves-an oddly delicate choice for my solid and sensible mother. At that age, a shiny black bowl cut and bangs would have framed my face, a stark contrast to the reddish-brown perm my mother had when I was young; I was no doubt growing out of toddler cuteness by then. But my mom thought I was beautiful. When you think of someone as your gift from God, maybe you can never see them as anything else.

How could they give me up?
I must have asked her this question a hundred times, and my mother never wavered in her response. Years later, I would wonder if someone told her how to comfort me-if she read the advice in a book, or heard it from the adoption agency-or if, as my parent, she simply knew what she ought to say. What I wanted to hear.

The doctors told them you would struggle all your life. Your birth parents were very sad they couldn't keep you, but they thought adoption was the best thing for you.
Even as a child, I knew my line, too.
They were right, Mom.
By the time I was five or six years old, I had heard the tale of my loving, selfless birth parents so many times I could recite it myself. I collected every fact I could, hoarding the sparse and faded glimpses into my past like bright, favorite toys. This may be all you can ever know, I was told. It wasn't a joyful story through and through, but it was their story, and mine, too. The only thing we had ever shared. And as my adoptive parents saw it, the story could have ended no other way.

So when people asked about my family, my features, the fate I'd been dealt, maybe it isn't surprising how I answered-first in a childish, cheerful chirrup, later in the lecturing tone of one obliged to educate. I strove to be calm and direct, never giving anything away in my voice, never changing the details. Offering the story I'd learned so early was, I thought, one way to gain acceptance. It was both the excuse for how I looked and a way of asking pardon for it.

Looking back, of course I can make out the gaps-the places where my mother and father must have made their own guesses, the pauses where harder questions could have followed: Why didn't they ask for help? What if they had changed their minds? Would you have adopted me if you'd been able to have a child of your own?

Family lore given to us as children has such hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world. When tiny, traitorous doubts arose, when I felt lost or alone or confused about all the things I couldn't know, I told myself that something as noble as my birth parents' sacrifice demanded my trust. My loyalty.

They thought adoption was the best thing for you.
Above all, it was a legend formed and told and told again because my parents wanted me to believe that my birth family had loved me from the start, that my parents, in turn, were meant to adopt me, and that the story unfolded as it should have. This was the foundation on which they built our family, and as I grew, I too staked my identity on it. That story, a lifeline cast when I was too young for deeper questions, continued to bring me comfort. Years later, grown up and expecting a child of my own, I would search for my birth family still wanting to believe in it.






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