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All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

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3.98  ·  Rating details ·  5,704 ratings  ·  872 reviews
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 early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biolo
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Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 2nd 2018 by Catapult
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,704 ratings  ·  872 reviews


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Celeste Ng
This book moved me to my very core. As all her writing, Nicole Chung speaks eloquently and honestly about her own personal story, then widens her aperture to illuminate all of us. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is full of insights on race, motherhood, and family of all kinds, but what sets it apart is the compassion Chung brings to every facet of her search for identity and every person portrayed in these pages. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family-- ...more
Brandice
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir is Nicole Chung’s story of adoption and the search for her Korean birth family, when she becomes an expectant mother, about to start her own family.

Nicole was adopted by a white couple in Oregon when she was 2 months old. She knew the story of her adoption well, as it was recited to her countless times throughout her childhood and adolescent years. In Oregon, she rarely saw other Asian people and often felt like an outsider. She also dealt with numerous questions
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Jessica Woodbury
When I started thinking about how I was going to describe this book, the words that came to mind were the kind of words you'd read on a bottle of water: pure, clear, undiluted. Every time I read it it was like turning on a faucet of raw emotion, a view into the author's experience that was like looking through freshly-cleaned glass. Forgive me if I'm getting pulled into mixed metaphors, but when I tried to explain it these were the kinds of images that came to me over and over again. I would sit ...more
Elyse Walters
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Audiobook- library overdrive -
read by Janet Song

Having recently listened to the audiobook of “Inheritance”, by Dani Shapiro -
“All You Can Ever Know”, by Nicole Chung, is a great bookend companion.

Both memoirs are reflective moving stories.
Both women were searching for the truth.

Nicole - born in Korea - adopted by white American parents, shares about her childhood to motherhood.

Insightful adoption story -‘cross- racial’ -about the complications of identity- belonging - and ‘searching’ for the
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R.O. Kwon
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An urgent, incandescent exploration of what it can mean to love, and of who gets to belong, in an increasingly divided country. Nicole Chung's powerful All You Can Ever Know is necessary reading, a dazzling light to help lead the way during these times.
Rebecca
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Nicole Chung was born premature to Korean shopkeepers who already had two daughters. This was 1981 Seattle, and her parents felt unequal to the challenge of raising a child who might have disabilities. They offered their baby up for adoption, and she was raised by white parents in Portland, Oregon. The whole time she was growing up, Chung felt like the only Asian around, and she experienced childhood bullying. Only when she visited the Seattle Chinatown with her adoptive mother did she feel like ...more
Jessica
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored of Nicole Chung's account of her transracial adoption, which has been popping up on many best-of lists this month. It's legitimately one of the best memoirs I've ever read, and I wrote a master's thesis on memoirs. This book tells a fascinating tale and it does so with beautiful writing. It's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy reading it.

So here's the thing: I'm not adopted. I'm white, my parents are white, my husband is white. We're not, and have no plans to become,
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Monica Kim: Reader in Emerald City
**this review ended up being way too longer than I’d like to, but I had so much to say, so brace yourselves!
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so when people asked me about my family, my features, the fate I’d been dealt, maybe it isn’t surprising how I answered — first in a childish, cheerful chirrup, later in the lecturing tone of one obliged to educate. I arrive to be calm and direct, never giving anything away in my voice, never changing the details. Offering the story I’d learned so early was, I thought, one way to gain a
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Canadian Reader
The content is suitable for an essay or a magazine feature piece. There just isn’t enough here for a full-length memoir. The writing is unremarkable, often bland, frequently repetitive, and overly padded. I’m surprised by the high ratings.
Paul
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoughtful, if discursive, memoir about a Korean-American girl growing up and finding her birth family. It could have been written at about half the length.
Lupita Reads
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nicole Chung’s ability to be vulnerable & approach difficult conversations with compassion, empathy & love in her memoir is everything I ever want to be as a Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend & soon to be Mother. I want/need to fill my life with hard but necessary truths & Nicole’s shown me that it’s totally possible. It’s not easy but it’s totally possible. Definitely a memoir to pick up!
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nicole Chung shares her story of growing up as a transracial adoptee in a small Oregon town where she was often the only person of color. I heard some of her story on the NPR Code Switch podcast (recommended), but didn't know what happened after she looked into her birth parents. She navigates the questions of adoption, parenthood, family, and identity with nuance.

If you are a person that likes to read similar themes across fiction and memoir, this one ties very directly to the YA novel Far from
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Chandra Claypool (wherethereadergrows)
I'm not usually big on memoirs but when presented with this copy to review, I couldn't say no. A beautifully poignant and emotionally filled memoir of a Korean girl adopted by white parents and facing racism and prejudice no one around her could understand. This journey of her finding her way and wanting to know about her biological family and the story behind it is moving and oh so real.

I felt so much empathy when reading about Nicole's childhood and, while we all know children can be mean, whe
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Misty
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After I finished “All You Can Ever Know,” I wanted to press it into the hands of my loved ones and say, “This is the book you must read if you want to understand me. THIS is a book finally written for me.”

In "All You Can Ever Know," Chung shares her experience as a transracial adoptee. It is an exploration of family and identity and the tension between the two – how family forms your identity and subsumes your identity for the sake of the tribe. It is a topic I know well. Like Chung, I am Korean
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Karen Geiger
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book
I’m really surprised this book has such great reviews. The writing is clunky and flat, rendering what could have been a compelling memoir about mixed race adoption, into a very ordinary tale. Having to re-read sentences that simply didn’t flow was super distracting. And at the end I felt that the whole thing could have been edited down to an essay instead of a book.
Dan
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know is a beautifully rendered memoir of family construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Viewed through a wide-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to ponder the limits of biological determinism and free will. Viewed through a narrow-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to consider trans-racial adoptions and reunification with biological families. No, not consider trans-racial adoption and reunification from a moral or a values-based perspective, ...more
Vanessa Hua
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, deeply affecting memoir about love, longing, belonging, and family. An unforgettable debut.
Kate Olson
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Adoption ~ a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about this week after listening to the @stackspod episode from Wednesday and reading this exceptional memoir.
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It’s not a topic I have any personal knowledge about and this is the first nonfiction book I have ever read about it. I’ve read lots of fiction with adoption storylines and I have read articles and talked to people about their experiences with it, but this memoir really solidified for me just how complex adoption can be for everyone involved in
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Traci at The Stacks
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve never read anything about adoption that taught me so much. I had lots of gaps in my understanding for this process and am grateful for so much that came up. As a mixed kid I related to parts of this book about identity and other parts felt so unfamiliar. Chung is open and bares her insecurities in a way that impressed and awed me. At times the story set up questions that were unanswered. I might have wanted more on what her transracial experiences were as a teen/young adult.
Joy
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
"...it's always a welcome relief to find myself in the company of other adopted people, because only we can understand what it means to grow up adopted."

I loved this memoir, for its lovely writing, for its moving story, but most of all, because I could nod along in recognition at so much of it, even though Nicole Chung's story differs so much from my own. Those moments of recognition in literature are so rare for transracial adoptees, that when I find them, I breathe deeply and revel in the feel
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Mike
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew this book was going to be great, but I did not expect that it would make me cry quite so quickly. (For the record, the first tears came on page 16.) What an amazingly honest, open, full-hearted story Nicole Chung has given us about adoption, about heritage, about self-understanding, about family, and how families are both made and inherited. I’m just so happy this book exists.
Christina Grace
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Greatest book ever written by one of the greatest living writers
Robert Blumenthal
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a timely and well-written memoir that addresses the issues around mixed race adoptions. Nicole Chung, a Korean American, was adopted as a premature baby by a loving and religious couple in Seattle. They moved to Southern Oregon where she was brought up. Throughout her childhood, she was teased at her all white Catholic school, and she was never given the opportunity to explore her birth family's heritage. When she becomes pregnant herself, she decides to search for her birth parents and ...more
Ashley
"I finally understood what my birth parents did not: my adoption was hard, and complicated, but it was not a tragedy. It was not my fault, and it wasn’t theirs, either. It was the easiest way to solve just one of too many problems."

I basically read this all in one sitting last Saturday morning. It's a relative short book at around 220 pages, but I think I would have wanted to read it fast even if it were 400. Nichole Chung, unsurprisingly to anyone who's read her other work (I've mostly done s
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Christine
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, own
4-4.5. Such an amazing memoir
Michele
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The suspense in this memoir makes it compulsively readable; it comes from the question of whether the author will search for her birthparents, and if so, whether she finds them. This plot is further complicated by an unexpected revelation that moves the story forward in a spot where it might otherwise hit a lull. And throughout the book, Chung demonstrates an exceptional emotional intelligence about her own feelings and the feelings of others, including her much-loved adoptive parents. She also ...more
Emily
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
There's a lot of ink spilled in the lit-o-sphere over the courage it takes to tell your personal story, so much that it's a kind of cliche. Too bad! I'm going to say it: This story is brave. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is a courageous, beautiful book that deserves all the accolades it's going to get.

If you've encountered Nicole Chung's writing before, then you know what to expect. If you haven't read one of her essays before, you're in for a treat: Clear, elegant, prose. Beautiful but efficient. No w
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Allison
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
This memoir is absolutely stunning. Nicole Chung writes beautifully in a million shades of gray, with nuance, curiosity and so much compassion. This is her story growing up as an adopted Korean-American in a white family and a white community. What shocked and touched me was that she did not judge her white parents for raising her with a colorblind attitude (and thus leaving her vulnerable and unprepared to to the racist bullying she experienced throughout her youth) - she simply recognizes that ...more
Jason Diamond
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think the point of a memoir is to not only tell an interesting story all the way through but to also teach the reader something. Lots of memoirs are filled with pages meant to do just that: fill the pages. Memoirs get a bad rep because people think they can write them, but they can't. The truth is that everybody has an interesting story they can share with the world and that readers will benefit from, but not many can fill up a hundred or two pages with it. Nicole Chung did, and she also wrote ...more
Karen Ng
Moved me to tears so many times. As an Asian that raised three kids in a predominantly white town. I understand a bit of racism and how difficult it was for my children to find their own identitly, but this book, and her prose, are unique. Brutally honest, yet heart breaking at times.A must- read. She writes eloquently and beautifully. I put her memoir at the same par as The Glass Castle and When Breath Becomes Air.
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POBL Nonfiction B...: September Book Discussion - All You Can Ever Know 1 1 Jan 07, 2019 04:23PM  
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  • And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready
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  • China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood
  • Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self
  • The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America
  • Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History
  • Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan
  • Go Home!
  • Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy
  • Now My Heart is Full: A Memoir
  • Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey
  • Ordinary Light
  • The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
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Nicole Chung has written for The New York Times, the Times Magazine, GQ, Longreads, The Cut, Vulture, Slate, and Hazlitt, among others. She is the editor in chief of Catapult magazine and the former managing editor of The Toast. All You Can Ever Know is her first book. Find her on Twitter at @nicole_soojung.
“To be a hero, I thought, you had to be beautiful and adored. To be beautiful and adored, you had to be white. That there were millions of Asian girls like me out there in the world, starring in their own dramas large and small, had not yet occurred to me, as I had neither lived nor seen it.” 8 likes
“As my thoughts reached out to them, all at once I could envision hundreds of gossamer-thin threads of history and love, curiosity and memory, built up slowly across the time and space between us—a web of connections too delicate to be seen or touched, too strong to be completely severed.” 6 likes
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