In her memoir, All You Can Ever Know, Chung writes with an empathy that's careful to consider the perspectives of everyone involved in her adoption story ... The detail is useful for the reader to understand that Chung's search will ultimately be successful, but the book is still paced like a mystery: the how and the when and the why of Chung's reunion is what drives the tale ... Chung's writing is never overtly sentimental, but it's crisp and clear and evocative ... Chung manages to make every moment she spent second-guessing her decision to search feel newly relevant ... Though the story is intensely personal, it's never myopic and, ultimately, it's universal.
The honesty with which Chung grapples with...racial erasure is a hallmark of her stunning debut memoir, a book that confronts enormous pain with precision, clarity, and grace ... in addition to being deeply thoughtful and moving, the book is a fiercely compelling page-turner ... what shines through this beautiful book is her clear-eyed compassion for all her relations, her powerful desire for connection, her bold pursuit of her own identity, and the sheer creative energy it took to build her own family tree, to 'discover and tell another kind of story.'
[Passing on this book would be a mistake,] Because beyond the specifics here – as unique, affecting, heartstring-pulling as this debut is – Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know will resonate with any sensitive, thoughtful reader ... Raw, open, forthright, Chung’s personal odyssey is an intimate journey toward self-understanding and acceptance.
Chung knows all too well that living without a narrative of your own existence is a constant, heart-wrenching struggle. But All You Can Ever Know insists that the stories we use to understand ourselves should be allowed as much complexity as the truth dictates ... Chung never gives in to that siren call of comforting fictions—instead, what’s most admirable is her deep commitment, every step of the way, to sit with the hard truth of the matter and accept it ... That conviction is also baked into the structure of the memoir itself, as its point of view shifts between Chung, her parents, her sister Cindy, and even the attorney who handled her adoption ... All You Can Ever Know’s main lesson is that the truth is far more interesting anyway.
All You Can Ever Know gently but firmly challenges the stories told to its author in childhood, the myths intended to make her feel loved and wanted and 'normal,' but that could never paint a complete picture ... The author...revisits her coming of age with a deep melancholy, favoring clarity over sentimentality. She writes crisply, intimately, bringing us close to her experiences of pain, isolation, and discovery.
Chung tells an important story, exploring notions of identity and race and the complicated nature of both ... Chung parses through these multifarious emotions and ideas with clarity and grace, I found myself captivated and moved by her writing throughout ... Chung’s memoir is an important one for a number of reasons, but more than anything, her writing is poignant and emotionally compelling throughout.
Chung’s memoir is full of nuance ... Through her story, Chung shows that adoption—particularly trans-racial adoption—doesn’t fit into a trite, simple narrative. And the lyricism of her language makes that story a pleasure to read. 5/5.
Chung’s dynamic prose tackles identity and the forces that shape it, such as classmates’ bullying about her noticeably Asian features and her parents’ colorblind insistence that they don’t think of her as Asian ... The book is a keen and meticulous critique of loving, well-meaning white parents raising a child of color in a predominantly white community ... What Chung painstakingly unearths about her birth family is thrilling and unsettling, and her articulation of her findings averts tropish feel-good stereotypes. Here, the open wound at the heart of this exquisite narrative heals slightly skewed, exactly as it should.
Though the memoir conjures the pain of lost or interrupted relations, its big strength is relatability ... One wishes for more surprise, more invention, from this book—a less conventional way of seeing and writing ... Aside from Mrs. Chung, who is presented with compassion despite her abuse, the characters all seem like ordinary, well-meaning men and women, doing what anyone would do under the circumstances. This makes them sympathetic, but not particularly enthralling. It is sometimes true that the more you relate to something, the less captivating it is. And yet there may be value in that familiarity, as in a sibling’s embrace.
...a tender, unsentimental memoir of her adoption and the search for her Korean birthparents ... All You Can Ever Know has the patient pacing of a mystery and the philosophical heft of a skeptic’s undertaking ... [a] tango of abandonment and embrace ... Early on, Chung begins weaving a new character into the tale: her birth sister ... Telling her birth sister’s story the way a novelist or, as she is here, a biographer, might is Chung’s finest decision. These interludes provide illuminating pauses (and significant doses of fact — about her parents’ divorce, her mother’s violence) to her own.
Chung creates a suspenseful story with her avalanches of questions and unexpected discoveries, and her hard-won insights into the nature of identity ... this is also an emotional and level-headed book about the rewards of questioning family expectations in order to come to terms with the complicated truth ... a moving memoir.
Personal and expansive, intimate and wise, Nicole Chung's memoir is a fiercely successful balancing act of family, identity, becoming and love ... Compassion-filled, truthful and page-turningly compelling, All You Can Ever Know is dexterous, honest work. Exquisite and inquisitive, it gets at the heart of what it means to belong.
Highly compelling for its depiction of a woman’s struggle to make peace with herself and her identity, the book offers a poignant depiction of the irreducibly complex nature of human motives and family ties ... A profound, searching memoir.