Minnesota Historical Society

Language of Blood: A Memoir

$ 23.95

A lyrical memoir by a Korean adoptee that explores the many facets of personal and cultural identity.

2004 Minnesota Book Award Winner

An adoptee's search for identity takes her on a journey from Minnesota to Korea and back as she seeks to resolve the dualities that have long defined her life: Korean-born, American-raised, never fully belonging to either.

For years, Korean adoptee Jane Jeong Trenka tried to be the ideal daughter. She was always polite, earned perfect grades, and excelled as a concert pianist. She went to church with her American family in small-town Minnesota and learned not to ask about the mother who had given her away. Then, while she was far from home on a music scholarship, living in a big city for the first time, one of her fellow university students began to follow her, his obsession ultimately escalating into a plot for her murder.

In radiant prose that ranges seamlessly from pure lyricism to harrowing realism, Trenka recounts repeated close encounters with her stalker and the years of repressed questions that her ordeal awakened. Determined not to be defined by her stalker's twisted assessment of her worth, she struck out in search of her own identity - free of western stereotypes of geishas and good girls. Doing so, however, meant confronting her American family and fighting the bureaucracy at the agency that had arranged for her adoption.

Jane Jeong Trenka dares to ask fundamental questions about the nature of family and identity. Are we who we decide to be, or who other people would make us? What is this bond more powerful than words, this unspoken language of blood? To find out, Trenka must reacquaint herself with her mother and sisters in Seoul and devise a way to blend two distinct cultures into one she seared into the memory by indelible images and unforgettable prose. This is a poetic tour-de-force by an essential new voice in Asian American literature.


  • By: Jane Jeong Trenka
  • Format: Cloth, 224 pages; 5.75 in x 8.75 in
  • Publisher: MHS Press (September 2003)
  • Product ##: 0873514661


Praise for The Language of Blood
Publisher's Weekly
Trenka remembers with gross delight headless chickens dancing around until collapse at her adoptive family's farm. She writes, "I wanted my head to be removed, a metaphor so strong that only later did I realize that it was not a death wish at all.... What I longed for was wholeness, for my body to be as white and Northern Minnesotan as my mind." Original and beautifully written reflections like these fill Trenka's memoir, a brave exploration of her identity as a Korean adoptee and pensive young woman trying to negotiate between two mothers and two lives. She traces her life from young, eager-to-please child to questioning adolescent. Once at college, she is stalked by an acquaintance with a sick fascination with her Asian heritage, forcing her to ask important questions about exoticization and violence. Finally, she brings readers with her to Korea, where she is reunited with her birth mother and homeland. Unlike some first-time writers, Trenka is unafraid with her prose and rarely falls into clich s, which is especially admirable given the subject matter. She brazenly dabbles with playwriting, screenwriting, crossword puzzles, myths and dream sequences throughout her account. Her journey, from the conservative Christian roots of rural Minnesota to her cramped and corrupt homeland of Korea, is winding, but it ends at an important place for both reader and writer: transformation. She writes, "I have made it my task to reconstruct the text of a family with context clues, and my intent is... to trust in the mysterious; to juxtapose the known with the unknown; to collect the overlooked.

Jane Jeong Trenka graduated magna cum laude from Augsburg College with degrees in music performance and English literature. She has at various times been a gas station attendant, a sheet music salesperson, a lounge pianist, a dishwasher, and a music instructor. She has been awarded the Brenda Ueland Prize, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, a Loft Creative Non-Fiction Award and a SASE/Jerome Award. The Language of Blood is her first book.

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