All You Can Ever Know (Chung)

All You Can Ever Know:  A Memoir
Nicole Chung, 2018
Catapult Books
240 pp.

What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth.

She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee.

But as Nicole grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Nicole Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child.

All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Seattle, Washington, USA
Education—B.A. and M.A.
Currently—lives in the Washington, DC, area

Nicole Chung is a writer, editor, and the author of the memoir All You Can Ever Know, published in 2018. She was born in Seattle in 1981 to Korean parents who put her up for adoption after she spent months on life support. She was raised in a small town outside of Portland, Oregon, by adoptive white Catholic parents.

In her mid-20s Chung took a nonfiction class and started writing essays. She later worked as the managing editor for The Toast from 2014 until the site closed in 2016, after which she became the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine.

She has also written for the New York Times, GQ, Longreads, BuzzFeed, Hazlitt, and Shondaland, among other publications.

In All You Can Ever Know Chung's writes about her own life story as well as that of her birth sister, whom she met after reestablishing contact with their birth parents. The memoir is structured around Chung's efforts during her first pregnancy to reconstruct the story of her own origins, including searching for her birth family, contacting them, then discovering a history of abuse, divorce, and deception.

Chung lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and two daughters. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/22/2018.)

Book Reviews
Chung’s search for her biological roots …has to be one of this year’s finest books, let alone memoirs.…Chung has literary chops to spare and they’re on full display in descriptions of her need, pain and bravery.
Bethanne Patrick - Washington Post

A Korean American adopted by white parents in Oregon, Chung writes movingly of her search to find her birth parents; her personal quest leads not only to her own story, but also to meditations on race, parenthood, and the construction of identity.
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe

What gives All You Can Ever Know its power is the emotional honesty in every line, essential to the telling of a story so personal.… All You Can Ever Know, sometimes painfully and always beautifully, explores what it means to be adopted, to be a different race from the family you grew up in, and to later create a family of your own.
Seattle Times

In this much-anticipated memoir, Chung brings her clear and thoughtful prose to the task of untangling the legacy of her adoption to white parents in Oregon. Transracial adoption …looks far more complicated under Chung’s kind but implacably honest gaze.
Huffington Post

(Starred review) [A] stunning memoir.… Chung’s writing is vibrant and provocative as she explores her complicated feelings about her transracial adoption (which she "loved and hated in equal measure") and the importance of knowing where one comes from.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) This touching memoir explores issues of identity, racism, motherhood, and sisterhood with eloquence and grace. Highly recommended.
Library Journal

[An] insightful memoir.… 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.

Highly compelling… [and 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."
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The book opens with "The story my mother told me about them was always the same" (3)—how do stories and storytelling shape the author’s view of herself and her life?

2. Chung writes about not telling anyone that she is looking for her birth parents and that "long after the papers are signed, and the original familial bonds are severed, adoption has a way of isolating the adoptee" (63). What role does isolation take in Chung’s journey? What impact does her race and ethnicity have on these feelings of isolation?

3. Throughout her memoir, Chung openly asks questions to herself and others in equal measure. By the end of the memoir, do you feel as if she has answered the questions she asks? Does she need to?

4. Chung’s search for her birth parents coincides with her first pregnancy, and her first meeting with her birth father lines up with her second. How do these events happening at the same time inform one anoth-er? How does it affect how she views them?

5. Chung’s adoptive parents have what she sees as "an enviable sort of nonchalance about my adoption," but she writes that she "couldn’t turn other people’s nosiness into a joke, and [she] couldn’t make them regret it, either" (34). What do you think was behind her adoptive parents’ responses and their attitude about the adoption? How did these things impact Chung’s perception of herself?

6. What are some of the mainstream ideas and narratives about adoption that Chung pushes back on? Where and how does she complicate the choices and events that tend to get simplified, particularly regarding adoptees of color?

7. After corresponding with her birth family, Chung is left to confront the fact that the story she was told about her birth parents was not entirely accurate. How does she process this new information? What shifts does she make after being presented with it?

8. Chung writes, "The peace I’d so badly wanted to give my birth parents, all along, was never my power to give" (150). Who does have the power to give her birth parents peace? Why do you think they feel the way they do about the adoption,  despite knowing that Chung became who she is because of it?

9. How does Chung’s journey influence her ideas surrounding motherhood and becoming a mother? As she builds a relationship with her sister and birth father, do these ideas change?

10. How does being Korean American with white adoptive parents in a predominately white town affect Chung’s understanding of her racial and ethnic identity? How does this perception shift as she gets older? How does it change as she raises her own biological children?

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