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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Berlin Has Become an Unlikely Home for China’s Expat Artists
The German capital offers not only freedom, but also invites people to provoke and challenge orthodoxy.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Tom Steyer on Impeachment: ‘We Have Won the Argument. Period.’
A conversation with the billionaire activist who has been narrowly focused on removing Donald Trump from office
The Atlantic6 min readSociety
The British Empire's Homophobia Lives On in Former Colonies
NAIROBI—When the Nigerian writer Unoma Azuah was growing up in the Asaba Niger Delta, she once asked her grandmother about a teenage boy in her village with an effeminate aura whom others would tease, calling him a girl. Her grandmother replied that