Woman of Interest: A Memoir

Tracy O'Neill's third book, the idiosyncratic memoir Woman of Interest, chronicles her search for the biological mother who gave her up for adoption in 1980s South Korea.

O'Neill (Quotients) was raised in a white family in New England. In November 2020, "I surrendered to obsession with a woman... I had an interest in getting my story straight." To find her, O'Neill contacted a private investigator, interviewed her adoption agency social worker, and took a DNA test. Through a distant relative, she learned that her birth mother, Cho Kyu Yeon, was still alive and had been a 38-year-old divorced mother of two when she became pregnant by a married man.

O'Neill resists the impulse to spin a tidy plot out of unruly family history. The dead ends, misconceptions, and delays all become essential to the narrative. O'Neill's December 2021 trip to Daejeon, South Korea, to meet Cho Kyu Yeon, along with some of her biological siblings and cousins, was more anticlimax than heartwarming finale. Lingering questions were exacerbated by translation issues: apps and relatives alike couldn't explain why Cho Kyu Yeon believed she'd miscarried. There was no magical emotional connection; instead, her birth mother struck her as a pathetic elderly woman with a bad dye job and a dubious past as a loan shark.

The memoir often assumes the hard-boiled tone of a mystery novel. It transcends disappointing personal experiences to muse on origins and endings. O'Neill's sardonic wit and quirky turns of phrase lighten a bittersweet, inconclusive story. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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