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Former Toast Editor Nicole Chung Unearths Her Family Roots - August 30, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Former Toast Editor Nicole Chung Unearths Her Family Roots

Nicole Chung. Photo by Erica B. Tappis

Many readers first came to know author Nicole Chung from her time as the managing editor of The Toast, a site devoted to hilarious literary critiques, sharp feminist observations, and tight-knit readership. While the site halted operations in 2016 — going out in style with a guest post from Hillary Clinton — Chung has continued her work, writing for The New York Times, GQ, and Buzzfeed, and eventually becoming editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine.

In her debut memoir, All You Can Ever Know, Chung turns her focus inward, documenting the long and complex path she took to know herself more fully.

Born “severely premature” to Korean parents, Chung was placed for adoption and raised by a white family in a small Oregon town. Writing with grace and frustration, she recalls a childhood in which she struggled to connect with her own Asian-American identity. She notes how her adoptive family was unable to see the prejudice she faced as a minority in an overwhelmingly white area, which only further compelled her desire to better understand the circumstances that had brought her from Korea to the U.S.

In part, she began to wonder if the story of her adoption — packaged as the selfless act of her biological parents in hopes of giving their daughter a better life — was more myth than fact.

While the narrative of an adopted child in search of the parents they never knew is nothing new, Chung imbues her memoir with the added wrinkle of what it means to go through life as a transracial adoptee. Employing the same wit, humor, and profound introspection that made The Toast an oasis in the dumpster-fire that is the internet, Chung reveals the gifts and curses that come from a deep exploration into the truth of our family roots.

All You Can Ever Know also documents Chung’s experience giving birth to her first child, juxtaposing the fears, jubilation, and responsibility of motherhood with her desire to better understand her mantle as a daughter. Touching on race, family, and the failure of simple labels to define us, Chung instead offers a masterful narrative that proves concepts like culture and origin are simply insufficient in elucidating who we truly are.

As conversations about what community truly means continue to remain acutely topical — who we belong to, what aspects of our character we define ourselves by, what we each require to feel whole — the timing of Chung’s memoir could not be better. In the gifted hands of an immensely talented writer, the story of All You Can Ever Know ultimately becomes more than Chung’s personal journey, instead serving as an eye-opening conduit to the universal desire we all share to love and be loved in return.

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung, Oct. 2, Catapult

 

Five other books we’re excited about

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
Sept. 4, Random House
With Lake Success, acclaimed novelist Gary Shteyngart (Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story) returns with a brilliantly satirical tale of a disgraced hedge-fund manager who sets out on a Greyhound bus in search of his college sweetheart.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Sept. 18, Knopf
Edugyan’s searing new novel follows “Wash,” a young field slave on a Barbados plantation who is tasked with serving his master’s eccentric brother only to find himself embroiled in a globe-spanning manhunt that also offers him his first tastes of freedom.

Beautiful Country, Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution
by Ben Fountain
Sept. 25, Ecco

In this timely and somber essay collection, Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) recounts the tumult of the 2016 election and argues that in order for America to survive the nation’s “third existential crisis” following the Civil War and the Great Depression, the old order must be set aflame.

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Oct. 9, Viking
For her seventh novel, mystery writer Tana French steps away from her beloved Dublin Murder Squad series to instead inhabit the perspective of a man gravely injured when he interrupts a burglary — and who soon learns that his past may be far darker than he ever imagined.

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood
by Karina Longworth
Nov. 13, Custom House
In Seduction, the acclaimed host of You Must Remember This — a podcast focused on the secret and forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century — shows how the womanizing exploits of millionaire mogul Howard Hughes predated the current epidemic of sexual harassment in the film industry.