Zinnhouse Book Review

Originally Published October 20, 2015 | By: Lauren Zinn

Though not an interfaith book, this story has inter-ness all over it. Interracial, intercultural, international. Such inter-connectedness is a hallmark of the interfaith movement. This mom deserves gratitude for paving an inter-way.

Mary Koral’s memoir of motherhood spans the adoption of three children, each from a different country, at a time when international adoption was rare. Her story provides not only a deeper understanding of adoption in general, and of international adoption in particular, but of the essence of motherhood. Her writing lures us in with a wise and poetic voice, a keen perception of people, and a strong sense of the places she calls home. While her tapestry highlights interracial and intercultural threads, the whole is greater than its parts, and the weaving masterful.

This true story begins where it ends, so we know from the get go that the children make it. The kids’ personal challenges, the parents’ eternal commitment to them, and the metaphors used to convey it, have you wanting all of the middle. For example, Koral writes, “I don’t think all adopted kids have issues…But. It isn’t an easy road. Great, not easy. Like those skinny Grand Canyon trails.” (179) “…her anger found all of us; we were like those receptacles in front of public buildings, the ones filled with sand that a person can plunge burning cigarettes into. We took the burn.” (168) And, “She distributed pain like it was so many sticks of gum.” (188)

Besides her use of language, Koral structures her story to propel us alongside her growing family. Cliff hangers, foreshadowing, and flashbacks all grace her pages. She’ll be describing something and then say, “It wasn’t always that way,” and we are drawn in. We cannot help but care about how the story unfolds. We cannot help but wonder if we could have managed it. Cannot help but root for these kids and rejoice with this family. And if you live in Ann Arbor, cannot help but imagine having seen them at their favorite stamping grounds.

The Year the Trees Didn’t Die offers insights to those raising adopted children, inspiration to those considering, and wisdom for those who have. The author reflects, “Would it be different now? I think so…There’s an awareness that didn’t exist back then. And that awareness came from those early years, from families like ours.” (211) And we all benefit. We understand now not only how difficult and rewarding adoption can be but glimpse the universality of parenthood. We recognize our own family struggles and learn we might not understand what we’re going through until later. Thank God for later because it helps us tap our compassion for now.

Lauren Zinn, Interfaith Minister, Rev., Educational Planner, Ph.D., writes on the intersection of religion and culture.

The Year The Trees Didn’t Die


The Year The Trees Didn’t Die is the story of how author Mary J. Koral and her husband Ken managed to cope with the challenges of making an interracial adoptive family. (Kindle version also available on Amazon.com)


Mary’s unpublished manuscript, “She Eats Like A Bird” is a 29 page short story that details a poignant remembrance of the author’s life with her mother as well as her mom’s description of her own childhood.

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29 pages, previously unpublished

Have you heard the stories? So many generations have gone by and so many stories lost in the vast sea of time. This short story walks us through the thoughts and struggles the author’s mother goes through, growing up in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, and how the author, her daughter, comes to understand her struggles.

This unpublished manuscript work by Mary Koral is a 29 page short story that details a poignant remembrance of the author’s life with her mother as well as her mom’s description of her own childhood.

Equal parts heart-wrenching and uplifting, The Year The Trees Didn’t Die tells of loss on every level imaginable: loss of identity, loss of control, and of a mother who promised to “exchange loss for love…” Unflinching in its honesty and rawness, it is a haunting and remarkable story that is unforgettable.

The Year The Trees Didn’t Die is the story of how author Mary J. Koral and her husband Ken managed to cope with the challenges of an interracial adoptive family.

Strangers ask their children if they speak English, know their birthparents, and realize how lucky they are to live in America. They watch as those children move from happy to confused and angry, rebel, and make terrifying choices. Laughter leaves and fear is a constant companion. How will the family survive? Will the family survive?


Chapter 19 — What Else There Was

She kept shouting at us. “I’m the most different,” she shouted. “I’m way different. Nothing at all like you guys.” Sometimes we let her shout, convinced that she must trust us or she wouldn’t yell like that, a screaming, shrieking thing waving her fists in the air. Sometimes we shouted back, turned away. Sometimes I wanted to shake her. Could it even matter if I caused brain damage?

And we had two other children. Both of them shell-shocked. They wanted to know where their sister had gone. Minh and Anita had been a tight pair and, for a long time, Minh tried to keep it that way. He never told on her and he got her out of what trouble he could. But, after a while, he plugged his ears and let her shout. Sung kept out of her sight.

Also, Minh and Sung had their own troubles. Anita’s anger seemed to increase Minh’s reserve. He never, ever said, “I’m sad,” or, “I’m scared.” He must have felt both those things with Anita’s problems taking over our lives. But he didn’t say so. He always had, still does, the personality of someone who gets along. He doesn’t rock the boat, not Minh. Which can lead to passive-aggressive behavior.

Chapter 43 — Bad Math Problems
Probably the day I was supposed to buy him basketball shorts, one of the older two had a major crisis.

I didn’t want him to have a major crisis, not any kind of crisis if that was possible. Be okay, Sung. Don’t mess up. And both of us, Ken and I, were extra vigilant, like we had been careless with our money and were counting every nickel and dime. When Sung finished middle school, we chose a no-nonsense private high school. A school with structure, that’s the ticket, we thought.

He was angry; not fair, not fair, he yelled when we told him.

“It’s a prison,” he yelled.

Additional information

Weight 12.6 oz
Dimensions 10 x 7 x 1 in