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After the Morning Calm: Reflections of Korean Adoptees

Dr. Sook Wilkinson and Nancy Fox, editors; Sunrise Ventures Publishing, 2000; ISBN 0-8187-0286-9; 186 pages; $16.95.

Reviewed by Bill Drucker

Our stories are the same, interchangeable, yet unique, and they are the blood that flows between us, mother to daughter, adoptee to adoptee.—Kathleen Bergquist, PhD. and contributing writer.

After the Morning Calm: Reflections of Korean Adoptees, the latest collection of personal stories and poems by Korean adoptees, features the writings of 26 adoptees (27 counting the foreword). The authors range from Stephanie Lagman, 18, to State Senator (WA) Paull Shin, 66. With two exceptions the writers were raised in America.

These stories in prose and verse offer personal insights into being transracial adoptees—coming to terms with one’s identity, being accepted and succeeding in the larger community and giving back, and finally finding his or her own place in the world.

The surprising thing about this is how the adoptee’s self-awareness remains so traumatic. I can understand the problems of social acceptance 40 years ago. As part of the first wave of Korean orphans, we were anomalies in the American landscape. But similar issues of identity and social acceptance appear in this anthology, and from some of the youngest voices—Stephanie Lagman (18), Kara Carlisle (24), Michelle Zebrowski (19).

One would assume that tolerance for differences is considerably better today. The voices in this book seem to say otherwise. The cruelty of alienation still prevails. The crisis of self-identity is persistent and problematic for many adoptees. Is it the problem of different races and cultures? Or is it simply part of being an adolescent?

If it is matter of the right coping skills to meet the challenges in life, the adoptees in After the Morning Calm have found ways to succeed. If there are adversities, they are obstacles to be overcome as with Mary Lee Vance in her essay (polio) and with Asia Renning (autism and Hirschprung’s disease, a pediatric gastrointestinal disorder associated with chronic visceral pain). Succeeding personally is one thing, but there is also the strong theme of giving back to the community from this group of adoptees.

A relatively new topic was raised in this anthology. How do Korea and Koreans perceive us as Korean adoptees? Not well, as told by several writers. Stephen Morrison, founder of MPAK, suggests that adoption is not viewed as a positive thing, and domestic adoptions (in Korea) are even more culturally negative. “Foreign adoptions had been around over 45 years but the adoption culture in Korea has hardly improved.”

Stephen Morrison addresses a very sensitive issue. For Korea and Koreans, this is a centuries-old barrier. Korean-ness is a national identity, culturally imbedded over centuries of foreign influences, wars, and internal crisis. Following the Korean War the country and its people had little means to care for orphans. Today, poverty, divorce, being unmarried, and other social stigmas have replaced war as the reasons for the new orphans. But adoption in Korea has grown only very slowly.

After the Morning Calm is the fifth anthology on the subject of transracial adoption. Other notable books are Strength to Survive and Courage to Live—18 Adoptees On Adoption by Anna Von Mehlen, and The Colour of Difference—Journeys in Transracial Adoption. Strength details the Korean adoptee voices raised in Sweden, and Colour provides adoptee voices from Australia.

After the Morning Calm is particularly suited for the younger reader. This was one of the goals of Dr. Sook Wilkinson and Nancy Fox. Accompanying each essay or poem are pictures of the author (as an adoptee and as the present adult), with an e-mail address for personal contact. After the Morning Calm also provides an extensive list of adoption organizations, support groups, and other books and newsletters.