I first became aware of She Is Mine: A War Orphan’s Incredible Journey of Survival by Stephanie Fast through Carrie’s review, and then I won her giveaway of the book.
Stephanie does not remember her birthday or her given name: she gave herself the name of Yoon Myoung in her book. She was born in Korea not long after the Korean War: her mother was Korean and her father was an American serviceman who never knew of her. Because she was of mixed blood, she was not accepted, even by her mother’s family. Stephanie explains:
In Korea, having a fatherless child of mixed blood brought impurities to the ancestral bloodlines. It was culturally unacceptable – a disgrace. And children who were not given a family name literally had no birthright and lived unacknowledged. They were rejected. Worthless. Nothings. (p. 34).
The Korean people had suffered greatly during the Japanese occupation before WWII. Then the communist occupation had come, and then the Korean War–their cultural identity had been ripped away. Although grateful to their Western liberators, their greatest desire was to rebuild their lives, reclaim their land, and forget their pain. The site of mixed blood children such as Yoon Myoung stirred up their anger, frustration, and hurt. The foreigners may have fought to preserve South Korea’s independence, but they were not permitted into Korean families, heritages, or bloodlines (pp. 35-36).
When Stephanie was four, her mother’s family found someone who was willing to marry her despite her indiscretion, but who was unwilling to take her mixed child. Her mother sent her away on a train, telling her an uncle would meet her at her destination. It’s unclear whether that was an outright lie or whether Stephanie got off at the wrong stop or what, but an uncle was not there when she got off the train. Instead of trying to find out what happened and taking care of her, the station master just shooed her away when he closed. Stephanie decided to follow the train tracks back the direction from which she had come to find her village and her mother, but she never found them. She wandered around the Korean countryside alone for three years. She had to try to find shelter and forage for food, finding out by trial and error what worked and what didn’t. When she did encounter people, it almost always went badly. She was called names, treated in abominable ways, betrayed at the deepest level from someone she had come to trust. At times she lived with groups of other abandoned children, once at a large encampment of many of them. Over time, due to exposure, malnutrition, and lack of ability to get clean, and everything else she had gone through, she was filthy, had a head full of lice, open wounds, and worms, so that added to the repulsion people felt toward her, but the primary hatred always went back to her mixed race.
At a very few intervals she came across someone kind who rescued her from death and danger, until finally she was near the end of her rope, abandoned on a garbage heap. A Swedish nurse passed by who picked up abandoned babies and nursed them back to health so they could be sent to an orphanage and adopted. She cared for all the children but could not possibly help them all, so she concentrated primarily on the babies. But when she saw Stephanie, she was compelled to pick her up. Stephanie then described her time at the clinic, the orphanage, and finally her adoption by an American missionary couple who actually had been planning to adopt a baby boy.
This is a heart-breaking story. It’s hard to fathom people being so cruel to a child for any reason.
But it is also a story of hope.
Stephanie writes in the third person rather than first because she wants people to think not only of her story but of the millions of orphans in need in the world. She has become an advocate for orphan care.
Overall I was greatly touched by this book, and also convicted about how I would react if, as happened to several in her book, I found a dirty, wounded, and somewhat wild child stealing from my garden or sleeping in my garage. I would want someone to help them but would be more likely to call a shelter or something than to take them into my own home. Yet throughout the Bible we’re told both by instruction and example to care for people. I was convicted to look beneath the surface to the person underneath, to see their souls, and to care for their needs.
Stephanie said in her preface that there were great gaps in her memory, so she filled in some of the story the best she could. I can’t help but wonder if much of the filling in was in the first three chapters about her mother and father and how they came together: I don’t know how much of that her mother would have told her in her early childhood. I would rather have had a little less filling in there than to wonder how much of it was true. And I would have liked to have heard a bit more about how she adjusted after being adopted. She told of many doctor’s visits and the healing of her physical wounds, and mentioned that it was a long time before she could return affection to her adopted parents. But after the trauma she went through, it had to have taken a long time for her to heal mentally and emotionally. I think families need to be aware that adoption, as wonderful as it is, is not necessarily a fairly-tale “happily ever after,” that there is a lot to work through. But I realize, too, that the main purpose of this book is to draw attention to and awareness of the needs of orphans, so perhaps the rest is for another book.
Stephanie says at the end that she eventually came “to a place in my life where I can say with all conviction: There is nothing that has happened to me that I would have been better off without” (p. 224). She plans to write another book about how she came to that acceptance – that is one I can’t wait to read.
A synopsis of her story is here:
I highly recommend this book to you. I’d like to follow Carrie’s example and give this copy away to one reader. I’ll take all comments on this post as entries for the giveaway unless you tell me you would not want to receive the book. Due to shipping costs I am afraid I can only send it to the US and Canada. I’ll draw a name from among those who have commented using random.org a week from today.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)
The giveaway is closed: The winner is Michele. Thanks for participating!