The Language of Blood

My name is Jeong Kyong-Ah. My ancestry includes landowners, scholars, and government officials. I have six siblings. I am a citizen of the Republic of Korea. I come from a land of pear fields and streams, where people laugh loudly and honor their dead. Halfway around the world, I am someone else.

Available in English in hardcover and paperback, as a talking book, and in Korean.

Jane Jeong Trenka and her sister Carol were adopted by Frederick and Margaret Brauer and raised in the small, homogeneous town of Harlow, Minnesota—a place “where the sky touches the earth in uninterrupted horizon . . . where stoicism is stamped into the bones of each generation.” They were loved as American children without a past.

With inventive and radiant prose that includes real and imagined letters, a fairy tale, a one-act play, crossword puzzles, and child-welfare manuals, Trenka recounts a childhood of insecurity, a battle with a stalker that escalates to a plot for her murder, and an extraordinary trip to Seoul to meet her birth mother and siblings. Lost between two cultures for the majority of her life, it is in Korea that she begins to understand her past and the power of the unspoken language of blood.


Original and beautifully written…Her journey is winding, but it ends at an important place for both reader and writer:  transformation.

–Publishers Weekly

The ending it offers is not predictable or easy, but bittersweet, perhaps the only kind an exile could achieve.

–Los Angeles Times

A courageous memoir that deserves a wide readership.

–Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers

Adoption memoirs are not rare, but this one stand out because of the quality of the writing and because of the aspect of adoption it portrays…an incredibly introspective and moving piece.


A book that translates, and transcends, the eternal question of home, belonging, family, identity… The book, a lovely chaos of art and imagination and memory, reads like life itself.

–Minneapolis Star Tribune

Startling in its intensity and lyrical in its breathtaking prose.  You won’t be able to put it down.

–Asian Week

A powerful addition to the literature of American identity.

–Minnesota Monthly

Whether trans-racially adopted or born into a long line of blood, the reader finishes the book with a better understanding of the pain of displacement and the internal battle to reclaim self without severing ties to the ones who have loved you.

–Riverwest Currents

Courageous enough to be ambivalent: Its collage structure…is loose enough to reveal the truth in between.

–City Pages

This book can serve as a conduit to insights into our own families, to open up those conversations we’ve been meaning to have.

–Adoptive Families Magazine

Bold and unflinching, whether speaking of wonder or horror, love or shame.

–Cheri Register, author of Beyond Good Intentions

Trenka tackles sensitive issues head-on by asking questions about the nature of family, identity and hereditary memory. While her viewpoints may strike some readers as disturbing, ungrateful — even radical — her message is of great interest to many in the adoption field.

–St. Paul Pioneer Press

The reader leaves having fully experienced the repression, the emptiness, the terror and the peace lived by Trenka without excessive explication and overdramatization.

–Audrey Magazine

The memoir succeeds beautifully with its sheer honesty and breadth of heart. Immersing herself into the sights, sounds and smells of Korea, Trenka unwittingly shows herself to be a fearless explorer.

–KoreAm February 2004

The general architecture of Trenka’s accessible memoir gestures specifically toward DICTEE, a much more enigmatic predecessor, as if to remedy DICTEE’s impenetrability while pointing to it as relevant to Trenka’s own particular notion of identity.

–Heinz Insu Fenkl in “The Future of Korean American Literature”

7 responses to “The Language of Blood

  1. Pingback: International Adoption: Why I Don’t Believe in Fate « Athena's Head

  2. Pingback: Journal of Korean Adoption Studies Third Issue Call for Papers – Social Etymologies

  3. Pingback: Renegades in Adoption – Jane Jeong Trenka | Land of Gazillion Adoptees

  4. Hello,
    Loved your book. It was the best book on a course syllabus of mine at GWU, but I have a few questions if you’d have the time to answer them…

    Why are the chapter numbers not native Korean numerals but the adopted Japanese Kanji numerals? Did you learn japanese, or is it just that this numbering system happens to be in everyday use in Korea?

    Why do you think your sister Carol doesn’t have as strong ties to Korea as you do? Do you think it’s because she was older when she left Korea, thus she never had the distance that allowed her to imaginatively wonder about what she is missing as a result of adoption?

    Have you read about Freud’s adoption fantasy in Family Romances, or what do you think about kids unhappy with their real birth parents who like to imagine that their true, nobler, birth parents are out there waiting for their little prince/princess to return? Related to your experience of adoption, or not? Or what about fairy tales that revolve around this idea of a lost child returning to their noble parents and feeling a strong fit to their new found riches (Hercules, Winter’s Tale)?

    Have you seen (the movies) Somewhere Between, or First Person Plural, and what do you think?

    Have you thought about moving to Korea to teach english and stay with your family there and begin to assimilate, since english teachers are in great demand there now?

  5. Pingback: 12 Reasons Why The Minnesota Korean Adoptee Community Is Awesome « Land of Gazillion Adoptees

  6. Francis Barbosa

    Your book found it’s way into my hands last year, though who I think may be a mutual aquaintence, and I’ve finally had a chan ce to read it. My ex-wife Beth Youngmi Wiberg (Cho Young Mi) and her sister and Jane Wiberg (Cho Young Sun – I think) have a similar back story to yours. I never really could understand it well until I read your book–I think I get it a little better now. Thank you.


  7. Hi Jane! I don’t know if this will reach you but I haven’t found any other way to reach out to you via email. I don’t really need this posted anywhere – I just wanted to give you hope and encouragement if I could. I just saw your episode on Obsession: Dark Desire. I was so shocked and horrified at your adoptive parents’ behavior and cold manner with you more than anything else. I know that was a horrific time for you because of the stalker but your parents made it a lifetime of segregation and feeling walled off. You never were able to express yourself or confide in anyone – especially with the people you should have been able to most of all. I really am truly happy you’ve become an award-winning author and outspoken activist. You deserve all the happiness in the world. I hope that terrible ordeal hasn’t cut you off from finding love and I hope you’ve gotten a circle of people you can say anything and everything to. *hugs* Definitely rooting for you!


Thank you for visiting my blog. I no longer have time to update this blog regularly, but I appreciate your comments, even though I cannot respond to all of them. All comments (except spam) have been allowed to go through unmoderated since June 16, 2014. Any comments you see prior to that date have been read and approved by me. Thanks again, and wishing you peace and blessings.

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