Fugitive Visions

06/24/2009 4:00 AM |

Graywolf Press

Available now

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