An impossible choice separates a Korean family just before the Korean War breaks out in Eugenia Kim’s The Kinship of Secrets. This choice means that Inja is left behind with her relatives while her parents take her slightly older sister, Miran, to the United States. The book follows the two sisters as they grow into teenagers, each wondering about the other while also resenting their parents’ divided attention. This quiet novel takes its time building up the characters and never gets too harrowing (not compared to some things I’ve read). It’s an intriguing meditation on the complexities of family relationships after they’re derailed.
Inja’s story begins as she, her uncle, aunt, and grandparents are fleeing south after North Korean forces capture Seoul. She faces hardship after hardship, but she has her uncle’s and grandparents’ love. Even though everyone’s poor, Korea is home. The original plan was for Inja to rejoin her parents after maybe a year or two. Instead, more than ten years pass. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific and the United States, Miran is growing up as a Korean American with one parent who keeps looking backward and another who’s trying to look ahead.
It isn’t until much later in the book that Inja’s parents succeed in bringing her to the United States, in a wrenching dislocation for her. When that happens, and the sisters meet at last, we are left with a big question about whether or not Inja and Miran’s parents made the right decisions in an impossible situation. Perhaps there would have been a correct action, but so much time has passed that it feels even like a reunion is worse than having been left behind.
I enjoyed the way The Kinship of Secrets recreated post-war South Korea. What I liked most, however, was the way the novel slowly revealed the family secrets. Even though some of the members don’t get along and frequently argue with each other about money, they’re capable of making great sacrifices for each other when necessary. In the end, in spite of the separation, we get to see how these people who share genes and a history attempt to forge themselves into a family.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 November 2018.