Monday, July 12, 2010

Reflecting on Somebody's Daughter

It’s taken me ages to get around to this post, probably because I didn’t love the book, but I’m finally up to sharing. About three weeks ago I finished reading Marie Lee’s novel Somebody’s Daughter, a fictional story which follows the separate lives of Korean American adoptee, Sarah Thorson, and her birth mother, Kyung Sook. I really wanted to love it, but that didn’t happen. From a purely literary standpoint, I thought the writing and character development were weak. Not horrible; the author has some obvious skill, but I somehow desired more. Just getting into the novel was hard and then staying with it was even harder. The biggest letdown for me was my inability to connect with Sarah Thorson. This is the first adult-level novel I’ve read about an adoptee, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Adoptees are all individuals who process this shared piece of identity in their own way. I didn’t expect Sarah to be a mirror of myself, but I was hoping we’d relate on some level. Kyung Sook’s story actually resonated more with me, perhaps because I found her to be more likeable overall. There were a few moments in the novel which moved me. I won’t spoil, but I do have to share my joy at Sarah learning the children’s song Santoki (meaing ‘mountain bunny’). The friend who taught her deemed it a song known by all Korean children. And I know it! I learned it when I was four and I still remember it. It’s just a small piece of culture, but knowing about it means a lot to me. I learned that song like any other Korean child; just in a different part of the world. If I got anything out of the book, it was happy tears from this be counted among those Korean children.

Somebody’s Daughter is not getting a place among my favorites, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. Everyone takes something different from a book, right? To echo an older post, I do want to point out that the author, although Korean, is not an adoptee. That could be one reason why I had such a hard time relating to Sarah’s character. I don’t know what kind of research Lee did to write this portrayal, but I found Sarah to be one-dimensional and inaccessible. At the end of the day, I must remember that the novel is fictional. It just turned out to not be my cup of tea. Ah well. There are more adoption stories out there and non-fiction to boot. I’m eyeing Jane Jeong Trenka’s memoir right now. Or maybe Mei-Ling Hopgood’s. I almost gave my blog the same name as her book! Adoptees always get labeled as ‘lucky’, don’t we?

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