A Single Square Picture:
A Korean Adoptee's Search for Her Roots

by Katy Robinson


Berkley Books, NY, 2002. ISBN 042518496X.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/18/2003

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

It was the subtitle of this book that drew me to it initially. "A Korean Adoptee's Search for Her Roots" told me enough about the story that I knew I wanted to read it. But Robinson's story behind her adoptive status was not the story I expected. Being an auntie to three Korean adoptees (one boy and two girls all from the same orphanage and adopted by my sister and her husband), I felt certain this was to be one of those stories where, much like my sister does, the adoptive family had taught the child from a young age about her Korean heritage.

Robinson, however, was not an infant at an orphanage when she was adopted by an American couple. She was seven years old. She was old enough to remember much, yet not enough, of her heritage when she became an adult. Clinging to a photograph of her mother and grandmother at the airport on the day of her departure for America, Robinson spent years wondering about the women in her past, the reason for her being sent to America, and about the people who would take her away from her Korean family.

This is a beautifully written memoir that is peppered with bits and pieces of Korean culture and customs. There is much sadness to Robinson's story. Yet she delivers the story in a sensitive, warm manner.

Readers are treated to a few photographs of Robinson's two families—the American one and the Korean one. These help to bring the people she writes about to life. The sad, almost numb expression on the faces of the grandmother and mother that fateful day at the airport is undeniable. Of this photograph, Robinson writes, "When so many memories fail me, this one stands out as a capsule of my childhood—The precise moment when the direction of my life suddenly and irreversibly changed." The obvious happiness of an American family, including an already grown Katy, says as much about the author's American family as her words say. The haunting photo used by the adoption agency to introduce the seven-year-old Katy to her prospective American family causes this mother's heart to knot up in wonder at how someone could knowingly take a child away from a parent and send her halfway around the world.

Robinson's story is not only the story of an adoptee's search for her birth parents; it is the story of a a woman determined to find her place in both worlds that she can claim as her own. In neither is she totally an insider. At one point, she refers to herself as an "inside-outsider" when she is in Korea and looks Korean, but cannot speak the language and does not know the customs.

Robinson's search brings her both heartache and joy. It provides many of the pieces of the puzzle that is her life. It answers many questions for her but provokes even more in their place. Robinson's search brings her the personal courage to continue to seek answers no matter how painful they may be, to process them in a constructive manner, and to live life as it is handed to her with an extra measure of grace and charm.


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