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October 24, 2023

What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim ~ A Review

by Susan Roberts

A timely and surprising new novel about a family’s search for answers following the disappearance of their mother.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of thriller What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
October 2023; Atria Books; 978-1668004821
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); thriller

This well-written, lyrical novel looks at a Korean family and their lives in America.  It's told in two timelines.  In 1977, we learn about the new marriage of Sunny and John, their acclimation to American life, and the birth of their children.  In the 1999 timeline, we learn how the family is coping with the loss of their mother who just disappeared one day.

1977 - Sunny has just moved from Korea.  She misses her family and friends and the only person she knows is her husband who is often emotionally closed off and distant.  America is not what she always dreamed it would be.  She meets a new friend at a bus stop and the friendship spans the decades of the family's life.

1999- Sunny has been gone for one year.  Her daughter, who just graduated from college, lives away from the family and since her mother disappeared, has been unable to find any stability in her life,  Her brother is in high school and he lives with his father.  Neither child has much love or respect for their father who has not been emotionally involved with them for their entire lives.  They also know that he must, somehow, have something to do with the disappearance of their mother.   When a dead body is found in their yard with a letter addressed to Sunny, they all wonder what the connection is to their mother and begin to investigate his life hoping to find a clue about their mother's disappearance.

What We Kept to Ourselves looks at the immigrant experience in America.  There was a lot of interesting information about Korean food as the mother and then the children cooked the traditional dishes.  The family was quite intriguing - my favorite character was actually John.  Yes, he didn't share his emotions and yes, he didn't involve his wife in his decision making but he worked hard and tried to make a good life for his family and he kept his bad memories about the Korean War to himself.  I had a hard time with the way he was treated by the rest of the family when he was the person who kept them financially ok.  

This is the story of a family acclimating to a new environment, there is love between the siblings, a mystery - where was Sonny?, and a look at a family struggling with her loss.  It was a slow-moving story but well worth reading just to learn more about Korean culture.

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.   

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