“The truth was that being Korean and being adopted were things I had loved and hated in equal measure…Sometimes the adoption … upset me more, sometimes my differences did, but mostly it was both at once, race and adoption, linked parts of my identity that set me apart from everyone else in my orbit.” Nicole Chung
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir is an extensive revelation and emphatic view of interracial and adoptive families’ complicated dynamics.
Nicole Chung begins by revealing her origin as a Korean girl raised in an all-white Oregun town.
Nicole Chung is bred by surrogate parents who constantly affirm that she is a special package from God. She is told the story behind her adoption by her adoptive parents, who are staunch Catholics. They told her that her birth parents willfully gave her for adoption because they thought she deserved more than the life they could offer her.
As a premature baby of ten weeks, her biological parents found that her survival chances were slim. Hence, they admitted adoption was the last resort. Growing up, Chung believes the story surrounding her birth: The acclaimed love and selfless decision her parents had made.
However, when she grows older, Chung refuses to believe her family myths-the worn-out fables about her birth and adoption. Beneath these are concealed truths she wishes to unravel.
The self-consciousness of her origin stems from a poor sense of belonging in her. The taunts from children in her all-white school and being a Korean accentuates her feelings of incompleteness. Her pastime is retreating to the library to immerse herself in stories, especially about white girls.
This frequent retreat leads her to a summation that an adopted child never truly experiences closure. It is always a bumpy past handed down to the next generation by birth and adoptive families.
Caught in the middle of racism and adoption with countless questions unanswered, she sets out to find the strangers who gave her up. Reality dawns as her young life is laid bare to her very own eyes.
Her childhood experiences resonate with her responsibility as an impending parent. She discovers her true identity just on the verge of a new birth (the birth of her first child). And her biological parents show up on the scene as new relationships unfold.
As real events unfold, she is alarmed to unveil the reality of her Korean family. After extensive and unglamorous filing procedures with squabbling legislators, she discovers an older sister, Cindy.
Upon their reunion, Cindy recounts how her birth mother physically abused her. In her words, their parents were divorced, and her dad had told Cindy that Nicole was dead.
With Nicole’s newly-found truth, she views Mrs. Chung’s unfair treatment as “an invisible thread connecting all my anxieties, my many shortcomings, all my worst moments.” Thus, the memoir drifts from a focus on parents and children to a story about sisters-the pains of interrupted relations and a heartfelt reunion with Cindy.
Chung’s use of the third person in presenting Cindy’s story offers a parallel description of her own life. Her approach is void of biases, entirely unequivocal, and evocative.
In the end, Nicole actualizes her passion for regaining her heritage, cultural birthright and passing on that knowledge and sense of belonging to her daughters. Through it all, her real growth and healing come through. She has gained so much in the quest to find her birth family: Another family, a refined understanding of her history and identity, renewed family ties, and a legacy for future generations.
Nicole Chung is an American writer and editor born on May 5, 1981. She is the editor of Catapult magazine, a past editor for The Toast, and of course, author of the memoir, All You Can Ever Know.