The Kinship of Secrets

The Kinship of Secrets

by Eugenia Kim


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"A gorgeous achievement.”—Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko 

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 the challenges they know will face them, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.
But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?
Told through the alternating perspectives of the distanced sisters, and inspired by a true story, The Kinship of Secrets explores the cruelty of war, the power of hope, and what it means to be a sister.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328987822
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 260,684
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

EUGENIA KIM’s debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was short-listed for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a Critics’ Pick by the Washington Post. A Bennington College MFA graduate, Kim teaches at Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing program.

Read an Excerpt

On a chilly summer night, a newsmonger trudged uphill to a residential enclave of Seoul, the last neighborhood on his route. By the dim light of his lantern swinging atop a bamboo pole, he checked his watch, clacked his wooden clappers three times, and, with the crystalline tones of his nighttime newscast, sang, “Attention, please, attention. Tuesday, twenty-seven June, three-thirty a.m. The North Korean People’s Army retreats after our heroic counteroffensive in Uijongbu. Enemy tanks were destroyed, and our forces have mobilized to repulse the enemy all the way to the Yalu River. President Rhee urges the people of Korea to trust our military without being unsettled in the least, to carry on with their daily work and support military operations. Attention, please, attention.”
His call echoed against the bulky profile of a Western-style house, where Inja, nearly four years old, lived with her maternal uncle, aunt, grandparents, as well as a cook and her teenaged daughter. Though it was the hour of dreams, Inja slept hard and still, her steady breaths matching those of her grandmother snuggled in the bedding beside her. The day before, Inja had accompanied Uncle downtown to read posted news bulletins, and his strained and rapid stride elevated her fear of things she didn’t understand—communists, invasion—and had exhausted her.
Inja’s dreams, both waking and sleeping, were often fanciful visions of her parents and her year-older sister in America. Having been left behind in Korea when she was a baby, Inja had no concrete memory of her family. They appeared to her as shadow people, their smiles as still as the few photographs they sent. To animate their grainy black-and-white features into an idea of mother, father, and sister, her imagination blurred them into amorphous shapes ​— ​loving, said Uncle, and generous, as proven by the monthly packages they sent—ghost people to whom she was bound.
Yesterday, Uncle and Aunt argued fiercely about the merits or foolhardiness of leaving their home and fleeing south. Inja had thought the mystifying and controversial invasion could be an exciting change of routine, and though she had no say in the decision to stay or go, she longed for adventure. Already her shadow sister had journeyed halfway across the world, while she herself had gone nowhere.
A dry wind carried the newsmonger’s song into their yard on his return trip down the hill, and Inja woke. She heard a pop of electricity—Uncle turning on the lightbulb dangling from the ceiling in his sitting room. Its blue glare streamed down the hallway, and his feet padded out to the porch. Her uncle was a calligrapher who created newspaper mastheads and banner headlines, so he had many contacts in the news business. Whirring crickets muffled Uncle’s queries to the man on the street. Inja opened her eyes wide as if it would help her to hear better. No strand of morning light yet touched the shutters. She slid out of the bedding, careful to not disturb Grandmother, crept into the long side room that was the hub of the house, and peeked out the front door.
In the darkness, Uncle ran straight into her. “Umph! Yah, why are you up? Are you okay? Let’s see that nose.”
Startled tears sprang from her eyes, but she smiled and rubbed her nose to say she was unhurt. “What did the man say? Are we going on a trip?”
“Heedless ears make heedless thoughts,” said Uncle. He crouched to meet her eyes in the shadows cast by the bedroom light.
She stepped into his open arms and his ready hug. With such protection, invasion couldn’t possibly harm her. “Will we all go together?”
“I’ll talk it over with Harabeoji.” Since Uncle didn’t say no and discussions with Grandfather usually meant he’d made up his mind, she was certain they would go. A sliver of glee shivered down her back, and she hopped out of his hug. “I can pack all by myself. I can help with Halmeoni.” Inja could keep her tiny Grandmother’s cane ready when she wanted to stand, or fetch her Bible, a clean pair of socks ​— ​whatever she needed.
“Don’t disturb her. You go back to sleep, and I’ll wake you if we decide to go. And if we do, it’s only for a short while.”
“Okay.” She returned to her room. Uncle was lax with discipline, but Inja had grown dutiful under the rough watch of her strict aunt and a stern command or two from her grandparents. Back in bed, with the pulse of Grandmother’s breath in her ear, she lay wide awake and listened to unintelligible talk between the men, and soon a rising volume of complaints from Aunt. With such fights frequent in their house, Inja had learned to muffle the bitter tones and ugly words by diverting her attention to making lists, sometimes of what came in the last package from America, what clothes had been distributed, what candy had been devoured, what new words she’d learned from reading newspapers with Uncle, or the quirky things Yun ​— ​her nanny, who was Cook’s thirteen-year-old daughter—did that made her laugh. She created an imaginary list of what she would pack.
Bible picture book from Mother, my favorite of everything
Blue KEDS sneakers from Mother (I copied those letters from the blue rubber label at the heel)
Socks and clothes
She ran her hand over the pressed linen surface of her Bible storybook, always nearby, and fingered its borders tooled with gold swashes. As high and wide as her chest and as thick as three fingers, it required both arms to carry it. If she took the book, little else would fit into a small bundle for their journey, so she sat against the wall and thought about all the things from the American packages she’d have to leave behind, all gifts from her mother and father and sister. These items lay on a corner shelf nearby, and as the room grayed with dawn, their silhouettes made it easier for her to inventory.
Pink rubber ball
Small doll with yellow hair and moving arms and legs
American flag on a chopstick-sized stick
A miniature spoon with words etched in its bowl
Bamboo flute
Shiny wrappers from candy and gum
A brooch made of pompoms, shaped like a poodle (a strange American dog)
Card of hairpins with a picture of a pretty girl with brown curls
Coloring book, all done, and six crayons (Yun was better at staying inside the lines)
Woolen scarf with mittens knitted onto the ends (no one liked it because it was red)
Cross-legged on the floor, she opened the Bible book to feel the glossy leaves of its illustrations. It was too dark to see, but she’d studied them for so many hours, she could guess what image was beneath her fingers by the bulk of pages in each hand. They were vivid and unforgettable, and from memorizing what her uncle said about the captions, she had learned what Fear looked like, and Greed, Sin, Pride, and Envy. It did not have a picture of Communist Invasion, but she thought their forthcoming journey might mirror how the Chosen People had crossed the sea floor while God held the raging waters back.
Inja leaned against the wall and fell asleep to sounds of activity in the kitchen and in an outside shed, where an oxcart had been stored since the war with Japan before she was born.
And on the other side of the city, the newsmonger snuffed his lantern in the dim gray before sunrise, noting a strange red glow beneath darkening clouds on the horizon. He pocketed his clackers and frowned at the teletype saying that the gains he’d just reported were lost. He conferred with his editor, who relayed the rumor that President Rhee had fled Seoul by train overnight to Suwon. But the editor also said they would not alarm the populace with confusing news of battles—or presidential flight. The newsmonger rubbed his eyes and went home to soak his feet.

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The Kinship of Secrets 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Sandraabrazier 3 months ago
Miran lives in America. Inja lives in Korea. The two girls are sisters. In 1948, Najin and Calvin leave Korea with only one daughter hoping to return to Korea, soon, to reunite their family. They leave for America with the older, weaker daughter, intending to return for their other daughter. Unfortunately, the situation in Korea gradually grows hostile, and, eventually, war breaks out, delaying their endeavor for fifteen long, excruciating years. Though sisters of the same family, Inja and Miran grow up in very different environments. Miran grows up in a thriving, carefree, and prosperous United States, while Inja flees a war, struggles to find food, and lives in a very slowly developing, war torn Korea. Secrets fill their family tree, and parents and children struggle to provide happiness for one another through maintaining these secrets. As these secrets are revealed to the reader, we realize the love and devotion to family and to what is right, that has filled the family’s life with unimaginable strife and struggle. This is a tender and loving book about duty to family and to the human race. It is about silently doing the right thing and not bragging about it. It is about deep and enduring love. It shows us that there are more important things than material goods.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Spanning the years from the late 1940’s until the mid 70’s, this is a story of difficult choices and plans delayed: first by war and later by laws and governments, separating two sisters by oceans and opportunities, while the guilt from those choices informs lives and creates a sort of remove that is never really investigated until much later. When Najin and Calvin Cho take their eldest daughter Miran and head for America, the land of opportunity, they are leaving behind a young Inja with family, planning to bring her to join them soon. A heartbreaking decision for any parent, and we see Najin’s struggle with the choices made as the story progresses, and the two girls grow up separately – always wondering about that ‘mysterious sister” from away who is responsible for packages with toys, food, treats and hope. Surely as the two girls grow, and Miran struggles with ‘fitting in’ and wondering about the ‘mystery sister’ that seems to consume her parents’ focus, with the war, the deprivations and immigration laws, bringing Inja to America, originally planned to happen within a year or two, becomes a wait of near interminable time, Inja is not joining the family until she is 15 and thoroughly unaware of this ‘American’ family, so familiar is she with the Uncle and Grandparents she was left with years earlier. These people are now strangers, with experiences that are vastly different and diverse: Miran is a suburban Asian-American, perhaps not quite fitting into those around her, but so very unlike the newly arrived Inja with her wholly Korean outlook and familiarity with the life, food and culture, even upended by war, that just cannot be replicated in America, no matter how much her parents may wish to hold tight to what was. This book takes a reader on a ‘hear my story, understand that many things brought us here, and most aren’t instantly apparent’ sort of journey, with moments that are revelatory, others that are familiar and most wholly unfamiliar as the Cho’s navigate parenthood and life in a new country, then try to bring a child into a ‘crash course’ of what they’ve come to find is ‘normal’ from a very different place, right in the midst of her adolescence when the changes feel more a punishment than opportunity. With author notes that share this is a tale based in her own family history, and the clear presentation of the voices that share the known to everyone and the secrets, the story is gripping and provides readers with an understand that can, perhaps (I can only hope) allow them to see that emigration is never just a single, simple choice, or that the simple act of feet on the ground in the US doesn’t mean that everything else is simple, or clear. I’d encourage readers to pick up this book, full of emotion and choice, families and struggles, and a solid sense of cultural influences that inform the choices, beliefs and language use of the characters to great effect. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was nor compensated for this review, all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed reading this beautiful book! The writing was lovely, the characters were endearing and complex, and the details about life in Korea were fascinating. I can't wait to read more from Mrs. Kim. Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for an advance readers copy! "These writings expanded Inja's view of the world, even of her own national history in the way that only books can - by seeing through the eyes of the people who lived through those times, and others from foreign lands whose history and culture marked men so differently."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
BettyTaylor More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written book is the story of two sisters, only ten months apart in age, separated as toddlers. In 1948 daughter Inja is left in South Korea with her Uncle and Aunt and her grandparents, as her parents Calvin and Najin Cho, along with daughter Miran, move to the United States in search of better opportunities for their family. Their plan to return for Inja is crushed by the outbreak of the Korean War. Thus, Miran grows up under the shadow of a sister she barely remembers, while Inja receives “care packages” from a family she knows little about. Told through alternating perspectives of the sisters, the story takes the family from 1950 to 1973, thus allowing the reader to observe the growth of Miran and Inja, the impact of the separation on the sisters, and the hardships experienced by the family in South Korea. We also read of the efforts of the Korean community in the United States to ease the burdens of their loved ones in South Korea. While most of the story focuses on the sisters, Ms. Kim also writes of the mother’s efforts to acclimate to her new home and the guilt she feels over leaving a daughter behind. In the Author’s Note I learned that this story was inspired by the author’s life. The contrast between Inya’s and Miran’s lives was heart-breaking. One sister had so much, the other struggled. One knew immense love, the other lacked emotional support. Subtle differences between belonging and not belonging – having a mother but not having a mother, having a daughter but not having a daughter, being Korean yet not being Korean. My favorite “take-away” from Ms. Kim’s book is the phrase “the charity of secrets”. What a beautiful phrase! I felt the pace was appropriate for a story that covers this range of years taking the sisters from their toddler years to their mid-20’s. It was interesting observing the development of their personalities, each reflecting a blend of their culture and their environment. Also as the sisters mature, family secrets are revealed. I loved reading about the beauty of the Korean culture and its emphasis on family. I also learned a bit about the Korean War and now understand why it is called “The Forgotten War”. I enjoyed Ms. Kim’s writing so much I just ordered her previous book “The Calligrapher's Daughter”. She wrote of the difficulty of everyday life during the time of war, family ties, humor in the darkest of times, and the love between sisters.