The Language of Blood, Jane Jeong Trenka; Greywolf Press; 2005
I’m still processing whatI think about this book. I’ve read other reviews and it seems that The Language of Blood stirs strong feelings in every case, whether you love it or find it offensive. For adoptive parents, I think we could all learn something from it.
The Language of Blood is a creatively written personal memoir of a Korean-born adoptee. The book begins with a letter from Trenka’s birthmother explaining why she and her older sister were sent to the United States – much more information than I suspect most Korean-born adopted people have. The sisters are adopted by a Lutheran couple in rural Minnesota, who, following the conventional wisdom of the time, raise the girls as “good, white, Lutherans”, and in Trenka’s opinion, deny their Korean heritage. The book focuses on Trenka’s search for identity through relationships with her birth family in Korea. She combines a variety of writing styles – the mix of techniques mirroring her own identity struggles.
While some of Trenka’s opinions may be difficult for adoptive parents to read, we cannot deny Trenka her experience, nor that it is probably the experience of many interracially adopted people. If we are to learn what the book has to offer, I think we need to suspend judgment, at least those of us who are adoptive parents. Is Trenka unfairly harsh to her adoptive parents? Possibly. Does she give short shrift to the relationship with her sister, who seems to have had the same upbringing with less identity crisis? Maybe. Is she unduly critical of American culture, while painting a rosier picture of Korea than is due? It probably depends on your own race.
The Language of Blood is a deeply honest, personal story. Trenka shares intimate thoughts and details about time spent with her birth family in Korea. In contrast, her descriptions of her life growing up and relationships with her adoptive family leave much more implied. She does a masterful job of using writing styles that enhance the meaning of the words.
Many of Trenka’s emotions and feelings seem to be very raw and near the surface. I could imagine that some would advise that she should have waited to write the memoir, giving her a more mature perspective later in life. But I think that it would have been our loss.
As our own children are growing up, we don’t want them to have an identity crisis as an adopted person, or as a member of a multi-ethnic family. But they might anyway. Denying it will not make it go away. If we discount Trenka’s experience, we risk losing some valuable insight from a brave and creative woman. It may not be our experience, nor our children’s, but what we learn from Trenka is of value nonetheless.
– Debbie Kaufman