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 story 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. Some of the thoughts that are explored in this book may be unfamiliar to those who have grown up in Western households, but the narrative helps to illustrate the meaning behind why the families behave the way that they do.