The Atlantic

The Fraught Language of Adoption

A conversation with the writer Nicole Chung on a complicated question for adopted people: Who are my ‘real parents’?
Source: YINJIA PAN / Getty

“When you think of someone as your gift from God, maybe you can never see them as anyone else,” writes Nicole Chung in the opening pages of All You Can Ever Know, her new memoir about growing up as a Korean American adopted by white parents in Oregon. Throughout Chung’s childhood, her deeply religious parents told her that God had meant for the three of them to be a family, and so when Chung was just an infant, she’d arrived in their home as their miracle daughter.

But as Chung, a writer, grew older and started a family of her own, she began to wonder more and more about the actual logistics of her parents’ “miracle.” As she prepared for the arrival of her own child, she couldn’t shake lingering questions about her background: Who were the Korean immigrants who’d been on the losing end of her adoptive parents’ gain, and why had they given her up?

[One family’s long quest to adopt a baby]

The ensuing conflict between Chung’s loyalty to the beloved family narrative and desperate curiosity about her origins is the central tension at the heart of her memoir, a bittersweet

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