The Kinship of Secrets

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

A lovely tale of two sisters leading completely separate lives and the tensions and issues this causes. I really enjoyed the two points of view and locations, and the secrets that are slowly revealed...
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3.5 stars
I was first attracted to this book as the Korean war is a subject I know little about and I love novels that can teach me something whilst entertaining at the same time.   

It is told in alternating chapters about the two sisters, one (Miran) growing up in the US with her parents and the other (Inja) living with her grandparents, her mother's brother and his angry wife.

I found this book a little hard to get into, not because the storytelling was not compelling but because the account of a family being displaced due to war was fairly difficult emotionally but very necessary.

The characters of both the sisters were, as you would expect very well developed, and I found it very interesting to compare the cultural norms of the two girls as teenagers and the account of Inja's journey to meet the family she couldn't remember particularly emotional.  Especially as she was leaving her whole life behind her, expecting never to return. I didn't realise how poor South Korea was until fairly recently.

The story based upon the author's sister's experience of being separated from her family when young and then reunited as a teenager, this is all related in the author's note at the end of the book.

This isn't officially part of a series but the author's first book, The Calligraphers daughter featured the mother of these two girls, Najin so this is a continuation of the tale, in part anyway.
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This is a historical fiction book that is split between two sisters; one in Korea and one in the US. I enjoyed this overall, although it did drag a little at times and some characters lacked depth. The second half also felt a little rushed. It was interesting to learn more about this time period in Korea, as I know very little about the history of this part of the world. Overall though, it was an engaging and interesting read.
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"She was aware of a strange kind of power one gained from holding secrets, and how confidences begat a kind of self-confidence - how the power of secrets required an inner strength and the maturity of discernment to keep them hidden." 

The Kinship of Secrets follows two sisters, Miran and Inja, who are separated in 1948 when their parents move to America. They leave Inja behind with other family members with the promise of returning later but after the Korean war breaks out it looks like they will never be reunited. The book tells the story of the lives of the two sisters up until the 1970s, as the alternating chapters chart the lives of the girls growing up in America and a war-torn Korea.

This book was so engrossing but the most fascinating thing was finding out that it's based on the life of Eugenia Kim's sister who grew up in Korea whilst her parents and siblings lived in America. A real gem of historical fiction.
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An interesting Story about growing up in one culture and being dragged into another, all because of wars. A Little too repetitive on how our character was Feeling, but otherwise was a good read.
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I love historical fiction and have read many books but never one about Korea.  This story based on the history of the authors own family is set between the Washington, DC and Seoul, Korea.  A alternating story of two sisters - one taken for a new life in the US and one left with loving family in Korea.  There was the promise they would be back for Inja not anticipating the outbreak of war.  A truly heart wrenching story of loss of family, grief of the mother who left her child and the estranged sisters and their very different upbringing.  I really loved this story.  A fascinating insight into this period of history.  Highly recommended.
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This is an incredibly moving book about two sisters, Miran and Inja. We are told their stories alternately throughout the novel. After the war breaks out in Korea, Miran is sent to the USA while Inja stays in her war-torn country with her extended family - particularly her uncle and grandparents. 

Separated not just by distance but by language, culture and life experience, each daughter has missed out on things the other has had: Inja has not lived in the suburban comfort Miran has experienced, but Miran struggles to identify whether she is truly Korean. 

I knew very little about the Korean War and its aftermath going into this story and I felt sorry I had not known more. 

This story, based on Eugenia Kim's own family history is well-written and the characters are beautifully drawn. A highly recommended read for those who enjoy literary and historical fiction. 

Many thanks to NetGalley, Bloomsbury Publishing and Eugenia Kim for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Interesting & insightful story of 2 sisters, one who grew up in US and the other in Korea. Took a while to get into this book but the writing & learning about a different culture won me over.
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This was a very engaging book of a family set across 2 continents. Exploring how childhood experiences can shape adult lives is done very well in this book. I also enjoyed reading about Korea and their culture.
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Absolutely love historical fiction and this ticked all the boxes for me.  Set between Korea and  Washington in the US, it is a story about family, love and secrets. The author tells the story so eloquently through the words of  Miran a young girl leaving Korea to settle in the US but whose baby sister Inja is left behind in Korea where we get an insight into what life was like for her during that time. It was also really great for me to learn a little more about Korean history and family culture whilst reading the book. Highly recommend.
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The story told by the sisters. One who lives in America and the other in South Korea. It's an interesting read. The difference in the girl's lifestyle is obvious.
Thank you go Bloomsbury publishing and NetGalley for my ARC.
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The Kinship of Secrets fictionalises some of the true story of Eugenia Kim, whose sister was left in Korea, separated from her parents and siblings in the US.

In this story, Inja is the sister in Korea, left as a young child in the charge of her beloved uncle, with the promise of a speedy reunion with her family in the US. With the onset of war in Korea comes division, poverty, and political instability which enforce a separation of a decade.

The struggles of reunion years later are poignantly expressed; the developing relationships between family members and their shared secrets continue to bind the family together across the miles.

Emotional, with beautiful characterisation, highly recommended.
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This story blindsided me with the depth of the narrative and the underlying social narrative interwoven throughout. Miran and Inja are sisters who are separated due to circumstance and the ensuing Korean War. We get to follow both their lives as they grow up through the 1950s to the 1970s. Eugenia Kim uses the sisters and their alternate lives as a form of contrast between the relatively rich and safe lives of those living in the US and the poverty and uncertainty of those in South Korea. 

It is certainly well researched and draws upon personal experiences, giving the narrative a depth and validity. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book - following their lives as children. the latter half had larger time jumps, losing some of the intimacy between reader and characters as the author began to tie the story together.

However, both Miran and Inja have unique voices which are easily identified throughout the book. They are created as individuals and not carbon copies of one another. Their different upbringings are made clear to the reader with Miran growing up with American ideals while Inja is instilled with Korean ideologies. This becomes apparent as the secrets mentioned in the title are revealed to Inja, she maintains a reserved nature and a strong sense of familial responsibility which as she grows older begins to weigh on her. This depth is what drew me towards Inja's story more than Miran's although her sotry of adapting to a culture within a family she doesn't entirely feel like she belongs is enlightening and together with Inja's story, this makes the reader appreciate the upbringing that they have received.
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‘This novel is a fiction derived from the facts of my family's life, and especially my sister's life, during and after the Korean War, the fifth deadliest war in human history, also known as “the forgotten war”.’ – Author notes.

This novel has impressed me so much more than I could have ever anticipated. It's a delicate balance of clear expression and deeply moving prose, a story that is quite honestly, unforgettable. And the fact that it is based for the most part on the author's own family, makes it even more impacting. Some might wonder why, with so much truth embedded into the narrative, the author didn't write this story as a memoir. Personally, I feel that fiction offers more creative power to most stories, provided you can strike the right balance between truth and narrative, which Eugenia Kim does with a deft hand.

‘Forgive me, Lord, if in the darkest places hidden deep in my heart – hidden even from my own sincerity – there should reside the thought that I have brought the wrong daughter to America.’

The Kinship of Secrets tells the story of two sisters growing up apart. One with her parents in America, the other in South Korea with her extended family made up of her uncle, aunt, and grandparents. The story begins at the outbreak of the Korean War, when the girls are aged three and four years old, and spans through until they are in their mid-twenties. It seems at first unbelievable that a couple would migrate to another country and only take one daughter. As a mother myself, I found this intensely unsettling. Yet, I was unable to reproach Najin, because her loss and sacrifice was so profound. Times were so different, it was no simple matter of hopping on an aeroplane and travelling in comfort like we do today. As reprehensible as it seemed to leave one child behind, I could understand it intimately, and as more information surrounding the decision and what influenced the choosing of one child over the other came to light, the more I understood, and the more my heart cracked open for Najin.

‘Her mind swirled with questions and something dark she didn't like feeling. Always it was the war. This war, the war before, the one before that. It seemed everyone used it as an excuse for all ills. And perhaps it was.’

I've never read a novel about the Korean War before, so I really appreciated gaining such insight into the politics and the conflict, both during the war and in the unsettled years that followed. I draw back to Eugenia Kim’s effortless writing style, so clear and precise, yet never overloading with facts or politics. I felt like I was fully informed, yet never weighted down. By facts, at least. My emotions were another story! There were so many moments, of horror, of simple joy, of human connection, that impacted me greatly.

‘Would she even like her? Something about that thought felt wrong, as if having a sister meant they'd automatically like – and even love – each other. But what if they didn't?’

The separation of these sisters is the driving force behind this story as we are eternally moving towards a time when they might meet, when Inja might finally be reunited with the family she has no memory of. The difficulties attached to this were explored fully, most notably the emotional side of it. Inja's uncle was such a incredibly wonderful man, he was truly inspirational in the way he loved Inja and brought her up on his sister’s behalf with such care. But this of course made it all the more harder for Inja to contemplate ever leaving Korea. She loved Korea: her friends, her school, her family. Everything in America was unknown, most particularly, her sister Miran who spoke no Korean, just as Inja spoke no English. These sisters were not only separated by distance, but by culture. It was quite heartbreaking.

‘She was aware of a strange kind of power one gained from holding secrets, and how confidences begat a kind of self-confidence – how the power of secrets required an inner strength and the maturity of discernment to keep them hidden.’

Inja was a favourite of mine but I did really feel for Miran, a Korean girl who was not Korean, if that makes any sense. She was American, but growing up in the era of the Cold War, shadowed by a mythical sister who had been left behind in Korea, who her mother clearly pined for. Inja was a big part of her life, for fifteen years parcels were sent, she shared so many of her things with Inja, without having ever met her. Their language barrier meant they were unable to even exchange letters. The adjustment period for the sisters when they at last lived together was fraught at times, but lined with sincerity. I loved how they made their way with each other, connected by a fragile thread in the web that made up their family history. This is a novel about strong women, about hardship and sacrifice, about love and honour. It's about finding yourself when you are lost within circumstances not of your own making. The title is particularly profound, especially with regards to Inga, who became quite the secret keeper within the family. So many themes of culture and family are explored alongside the consequences of war. The Kinship of Secrets is a remarkable novel, magnificent in its execution and profoundly beautiful in its narration. This is one I highly recommend.

‘Her mother and grandmother had risen like dragons from the sea floor of a centuries-old, neo-Confucian culture of female oppression. She had been given a tremendous gift of two unique women whose lives – whose Korean lives – had already exemplified for her what she could learn from the burgeoning American feminist crusade.’


Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for providing me with a copy of The Kinship of Secrets for review. This review will be published to my blog and goodreads in line with the release date for the novel.
https://theresasmithwrites.com
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Told through the perspective of two “sisters”, one who remains with grandparents and uncle in Korea and the other who emigrates with their“parents” to the U.S in search of better opportunities.  Reuniting the family proves a struggle as the Korean War ensues. Very well written, seeing the struggle of the immigrant in a new country and the sister left behind.  Interesting read as I knew little about this period of history.
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"Everybody wanted to go to America. Mountains of gold, streets strewn with coins, heaven on earth". And for Najin, Calvin Cho and Miran - only one of their two daughters- the dream has become a reality. But left behind in a very unsettled Korea, is the rest of the mother's family including their younger daughter, Inja. 
      So the story is set -neither 'family' can settle and focus on the here and now as they constantly look across the seas and set their sights on a future where the will be a reunion. 
      The voices of both sisters are believable as they embrace their lives in the way children, who of course don't know any different, always do. Inja adores her Uncle  as he is "so easy to love" with his "unreserved and expansive emotions" and quietly admires her grandmothers strength; "Her mother and grandmother had risen like dragons from the sea floor of a centuries-old, neo-Confucion culture of female oppression." Meanwhile Miran, in the land of plenty, struggles to understand her mother's more reserved nature and contend with the 'ghost' of her absent sister to whom her parents are so devoted.
      I was swept up in the family's story and their attempts to cope with the situations that years of political unrest placed them in. Furthermore, I was very taken with the close bonds that Eugenia Kim demonstrates between the different family members -understanding that physical representation and ease of communication are quite often lacking in familial relationships but that the respect and adoration is still there.
      Weaker were the attempts to draw the whole tale neatly together with the secrets referenced in the book's title. Inevitably, misunderstandings; inconsistencies in memories; deliberate attempts to spare others' heart-ache and opinions versus facts, lead to a series of 'hidden' truths within the family and I found the overt references to Inja's increasing responsibility as the new guardian of these truths jarred;
"She was aware of a strange kind of power one gained from holding secrets, and how confidences begat a kind of self-confidence - how the power of secrets required an inner strength".
       Whilst this does not undo the story-telling, it does 'cheapen' the overall atmosphere and left me slightly deflated by the end.
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