A family separated by war and difficult choices maintains an unwavering bond in Eugenia Kim’s thoughtful second novel. Picking up where The Calligrapher’s Daughter ends, The Kinship of Secrets finds Calvin and Najin Cho settled in America with their daughter, Miran, while their younger daughter, Inja, remains in the care of Najin’s extended family in South Korea. The first harrowing glimpses of the Korean War extend their separation longer than expected, causing unimaginable physical hardship on one side and painful emotional turmoil on the other. Najin’s hope to reunite her family is met with disappointment after disappointment as the months turn into years and then decades.
Oceans apart, Inja and Miran grow up, and though their respective lives are dissimilar, their individual desires mirror each other’s. Najin may be physically present in Miran’s life, but she’s also emotionally removed and consumed with worry for Inja. Inja, who was only an infant when her parents and Miran left for America, has no lasting memories of Najin but yearns to know her. When long-kept family secrets are finally revealed, the truth enables both Miran and Inja to connect with each other and with their mother. The sisters mature, morphing into opinionated teenagers and college students, eventually becoming independent young women molded by key events of the 1960s and ’70s.
Covering such a broad span of history is an ambitious undertaking, and The Kinship of Secrets is not without its stumbles. While at times the author’s prose tells more overtly than it shows, she’s able to capture an abundance of feeling. Drawn from her own family history, Kim’s story unfolds with the weight of lived experience.
Through these relationships, The Kinship of Secrets explores the meaning of love and sacrifice and how often they are one and the same.