Fugitive Visions, Jane Jeong Trenka's second memoir, takes as its subject Trenka's harried assimilation to life in South Korea as a returning transnational adoptee. Having been raised in rural Minnesota by white parents, Trenka reconnects with her biological family in her early twenties and eventually moves — in fits and starts — back to Korea. Fugitive Visions explores the disconnected emotional and social space Trenka inhabits as a non-native speaker and relative newcomer to Korea.
In this memoir — which is more a creative analysis or reflection than a straightforward narrative — Trenka works with transnational adoption as a concept, and with the inevitable emotional consequences suffered by those raised in cultures vastly different than those of their biological families. To that effect, she discusses her disparate feelings of estrangement from and longing for her childhood home, a place where her ethnicity was not a topic of conversation amongst her adoptive family, even though Trenka grew up as an obvious minority in a white, rural community. Residing in Korea, however, provides Trenka scant relief, as her gaps in language immediately identify her as a foreigner and require her to justify her origins to everyone with whom she speaks. The result, Trenka explains, is an existence devoid of a sturdy national — or even ethnic — identity. She writes, "The sight of a middle-aged white woman on a Seoul street — a stranger, who, to my perpetual surprise, never recognizes my own whiteness — brings up memories of hamburger hotdishes with kidney beans, white bread and grape jelly..."
Trenka peppers her prose with excerpts from psychology texts, vocabulary exercises and creative self-tests, all of which contribute to the physically disjointed yet thematically cohesive space in which her tale exists. In this way, she keeps interesting what otherwise might be a difficult stream of reflection to follow. Ultimately, Trenka delivers a self-analysis of impressive emotional weight and insight. Her investigations of race, culture and self-identity reach to the core; Trenka is unafraid to reveal those depths to readers who do not necessarily share her experiences, and it is a task at which she excels.