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Chinhominey's Secret: A Novel

In this moving first novel, a Korean-American family faces not only intergenerational cultural conflicts between immigrant parents and their Americanized daughters, but also the results of a terrible prophecy, made by a fortune-teller 20 years earlier to Chinhominey, the long-estranged grandmother.
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About the Author

Nancy Kim, a corporate lawyer living in San Francisco, was born in Korea, raised in Los Angeles.


In Kim's spare but affecting first novel, the Chois, a Korean-American family that has settled comfortably in West L.A., make peaceÄwith themselves and with a disturbing prophecy that has haunted them. In Korea 22 years before the opening of the contemporary story, Yung Chul's mother visits a fortune teller to learn the fate of her son's approaching marriage. The seer predicts that two daughters will be born to Yung Chul and Myung Hee, the eldest bringing joy and pride to the family and the youngest bearing tragedy. The newlyweds emigrate to the U.S. in the hopes of escaping this dire prediction; two daughters are indeed born to them, but their marriage becomes strained. When "Chinhominey" (Korean for paternal grandmother) finally comes to the States to visit her family, the old woman's superstitions and piercing wisdom initially prove disruptive. The generation conflict between immigrant parents and Americanized young adult children may have dimensions that Chinhominey can't parse, and effects she can't predict. Christina, a 24-year-old beauty, finds herself engaged to a violent and controlling young doctor. And Grace, who feels inferior to her sister in physical attributes, compensates by being a perfect student at UCLA. Grace is the liveliest character; her navigations of the college social scene and dating are humorous and endearing; she's ordinary, not cursed. Narrating with the simplicity of a folk tale, which sometimes prevents fully dimensional portrayal, Kim reveals the characters' stories in alternating chapters. Some segments flesh out the family's Korean past and are touched with magical moments: a dragonfly on a tether or a troll-like man in a cave of branches. A too tidy (yet tear-producing) ending resolved the Choi family's cross-cultural drama. (May)

Set in Los Angeles, corporate lawyer Kim's first novel focuses on a "typical" Korean American family. Yung Chul Choi, an accountant, and his wife, Myung Hee, have two daughters. Their oldest, beautiful Christina, is the "perfect" daughter, with a good career as a teacher and a successful American boyfriend. Grace, a senior in high school, is extremely intelligent but the opposite of her sister in many ways. Much to Grace's dismay, she is often overshadowed and criticized for not being more like her older sister. When their Korean-speaking grandmother Chinhominey comes to stay, everything unravels. Kim's writing is clear and reads like a screenplay. Her characters are likable but not necessarily fully developed, and the plot itself is somewhat predictable, with unanswered gaps that may leave the reader wondering. Overall, however, this is a good choice for a growing contemporary Korean American audience. Public libraries serving this population may want to consider it.‘Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Stanton, CA

Nancy Kim brings a light, lyrical touch to this engaging tale of self-fulfilling prophecies and intergenerational conflict among partly assimilated Asian-Americans. Boston Herald A true gem. Tampa Tribune Combines the immigrant experience and suspense. San Jose Mercury News Tradition and superstition clash with contemporary American culture...Offers interesting insights into the power of a family legacy. Kirkus Reviews Straightforward and spare The New York Times

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