Jane Jeong Trenka’s Fugitive Visions: An adoptee’s Return to Korea
Book review by Mirah Riben
Monarchs migrate. This is different than species that emigrate. Species that emigrate travel one way. Species that migrate travel back and forth between two different places. They have two homes.Jane Jeong Trenka bares all. She bares her naked truths in beautifully poignant poetic prose, informing us that: “There are real orphans and created orphans, paper sons, picture brides, imaginary orphans, foreigners born and created.”
The Language of Blood
Trenka gives them all voice. Her gentle voice sings the tortured words of heart felt’s pain and confusion to the tune of the harsh realities faced by longing for truth – her truth – her mother’s arms, since the tender age of five. Trenka knows that living in Paris does not make one a Parisian, and who wonders if she was “merely interchangeable with any other Asian bride” to her white, Minnesotan husband, of the same European ethnicity and heritage as her adoptive father.
Keeping a Protestant family together hinges on the beliefs that everyone is the same and nobody should be treated different and nobody should get anything special – which is not faith in the invisible, but invisibility….Yet, even after three years in Korea, Trenka, who has tried to make a home for herself there for four years, “still wake(s) from nightmares almost every morning, knowing where I am, running from something invisible.”
She has to believe that treating me ‘as her own’ (and no one else’s) was absolutely, unquestionably right.
“I have seen things that no tourist will ever see even though I am still in many respects a tourist.” She says she’s been traveling back and forth between worlds for eleven years. Actually, it’s been
Trenka paints in abstract realism “the constant chore of explaining why [she] exist[s]”…
“I am an overseas adoptee.”
“I came and went from the U.S.”
“I am your countryman!”
… and why she “fled the U.S., unable to bear the sight of yet another adopted child with white parents.”
“Where are you from? America? But you look Korean. Where are you really from?” She reads “a poem about salmon, the way they struggle, the way their skin tears as they leap upstream, the way they go back for no apparent reason, they are not even starving. They are not even starving –“
Raised in the town of Harlow, a town with only one Black resident who was adopted by a white family. Harlow, where she was called: “Frog-eyed nigger-lipped Dumbo-eared chink” by her best friend, as she laughed at the joke and discovered her white mother not only didn’t see or her or, she didn’t see how other people saw because in her mother’s imagination she was white.
“Made in KoreaHarlow, she recalls, discovered “the monkey’s indomitable preference for the familiar face.”
Cheap yellow daughter
Honorary white almost but not quite”
In the end, she has “observed that all of the opportunities that transnational adoption gave [her and all Korean adoptees]…the one opportunity we were not given was the chance to be an ordinary Korean person.”
“Why did you come to Korea? Because YOU’RE KOREAN? Ha ha ha!!”She is “an ex-Korean possessing Korean language skills inferior to those” of her two-year old nephew a “Korean boy raised by Korean parents.”
“Which country do you come from?”“That feeling of Joeng – in which Koreans recognize themselves and each other as Korean – binds together mother and daughter…” had not “the adoption agency exiled [her] for no crime except being born to a battered wife…”
“I come from our country”
“Our family, our home, our culture.”
Trenka writes musically lyrical words in vibrant and colors and muted tones. “’This is the language I speak’ is one color. Spoken in Korean, This is the language I have lost is another.”
She asks us to ponder:
- “If you knew your child was not capable of loving you back, would you still adopt her?
- “If you could recognize a filthy gook in white pajamas as a human being, would you still shoot him?
- “If you could recognize a child’s mother as a human being, would you still think of taking her child from her as a charitable act?”
In a sea of adoption memoirs Fugitive Visions soars high above the rest. It is not a “must read” book, not the kind you filled with statistics and data activists might crave and those who affect adoption legislation need, but rather one you will savior reading and re-reading for its delicate flavors whether or not you have any connection to, or interest in, adoption or Korea.
Trenka masterfully opens her wounds and exposes her pain with rawness but not bitterness in a book about a life, which like the Joni Mitchell song, looks at life from both sides now.
Fugitive Visions is Jane Jeong Trenka's third book. She has also written The Language of Blood and is editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption. Jane is founder of TRACK Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea. Consider by many the preeminent voice of and for adult Korean adoptees, she blogs at jjtrenka.wordpress.com/ and justicespeaking.wordpress.com/