Long-listed for PEN Open Book Award
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, Time, The Boston Globe, Real Simple, Buzzfeed, Jezebel, Bustle, Library Journal, Chicago Public Library, and more
"This book moved me to my very core. . . . [All You Can Ever Know] should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family―which is to say, everyone.” ―Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Nicole Chung’s powerful memoir weighs the lingering psychic cost of interracial adoption. Raised by white parents in the Pacific Northwest, Chung, who is Korean-American, struggled to ignore incidents of xenophobia, issues of personal identity, and an aching curiosity about her biological parents. Upon reaching young adulthood, Chung began to explore the myths her adopted parents had told her—and unearthed a complicated reality. Deeply honest and self-exploratory, All You Can Ever Know is a nail-biting journey of personal discovery. Chung reminds us that it’s possible to resolve our uncertainties, but the process is rarely immediate or tidy.
In her stunning memoir, freelance writer Chung tracks the story of her own adoption, from when she was born premature and spent months on life support to the decision, while pregnant with her first child, to search for her birth family. Growing up the only person of color in an all-white family and neighborhood in a small Oregon town five hours outside of Portland, Chung felt out of place. She kept a tally of other Asians she saw but could go years without seeing anyone she didn't recognize. She knew very little about her birth parents only the same story she was told again and again by her adoptive parents: "Your birth parents had just moved here from Korea. They thought they wouldn't be able to give you the life you deserved." Decades later, Chung, with the help of a "search angel," an intermediary who helps unite adoptive families, decided to track them down, hoping to at least get her family medical history, but what she found was a story far more complicated than she imagined. 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
All You Can Ever Know
Reading this book made me think about adoption in entirely new ways. I have first cousins who were adopted but I didn’t give that much thought in the 1950s. Then I remembered a Korean girl I had in my class around 1990. As a teacher I just saw her as another student. Her American mother said they had taken a tour of duty in Korea just so they could adopt Jennifer. Her mother gave her opportunities to learn about her Korean heritage but Jennifer more or less denied her culture and refused to learn more. Now I have a great niece adopted from Thailand in 2000 whose mother has always celebrated her daughter’s heritage with other foreign born adoptees through music and cultural exchanges. Then I thought of friends who had given up children for adoptions, of others who had adopted children pop up out of the blue looking to reconnect with their birth families, and birth mothers finding and meeting the child they gave up years ago. Finally, I realized that adoption doesn’t just affect the person who was adopted but reaches many others in their wake.