Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim

Summary: In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother—but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry Najin into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends her to serve in the king’s court as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end.

In the shadow of the dying monarchy, Najin begins a journey through increasing oppression that will forever change her world. As she desperately seeks to continue her education, will the unexpected love she finds along the way be enough to sustain her through the violence and subjugation her country continues to face? Spanning thirty years, The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a richly drawn novel in the tradition of Lisa See and Amy Tan about a country torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, a family ultimately united by love, and a woman who never gives up her search for freedom.
(summary and cover photo from www.thecalligraphersdaughter.com, book received free for review)

My Review: The Calligrapher's Daughter is set in the early-mid 1900's in Korea at a time when the Japanese were invading Korea. The Korean culture, heritage and individual identities were gravely threatened as the Japanese attempted to control everything from media to education. It is during this struggle that the narrator, at the age of nine, discovers that she does not have a name. She is referred to as the Calligrapher's daughter (her father's profession) or the daughter of the woman from Nim. Thus she grows up without her own identity.

Covering just over two decades, the main thread weaved throughout the story is that of identity. The narrator fights to find a balance between living up to the values of her heritage and surviving and seeking out a life of her own filled with happiness. All the while her basic survival is at stake. Maintaining the image of the family name is the utmost importance regardless of personal sacrifice yet an underlying message of love, though subtle at times, is there throughout the story.

Eugenia Kim does a fantastic job of bringing this era to life. She produces characters to love and some to despise. She brings a large amount of emotion to her tale. It is a historically informative tale, yet enjoyable. It is beautifully written with a poetic feel. This is a moving novel encompassing family bonds and loyalty. Emotions roar loudly throughout yet the novel, against all odds, manages to come to a satisfying close.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To sum it up: A culturally rich work of historical fiction.

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