Title: The Calligrapher’s Daughter
Author: Eugenia Kim
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
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.
The Calligrapher’s Daughter is an exceptionally written historical fiction novel. I can’t imagine how much time and effort Eugenia Kim must have put into finding out as much as she could about the customs during the time period she writes about. Additionally, I have to say that I was a bit shocked at how little I knew about Korean history. I appreciated the insight that this book provided, as well as the historical note at the end of the novel which gave a brief summary of Korean history.
Eugenia Kim writes with a confidence usually reserved for seasoned writers. As a result, I was incredibly surprised to learn that The Calligrapher’s Daughter was her first novel. The novel starts out a bit slow and has a somewhat languorous pace. In this case, it works well – just don’t expect this to be a super quick read. One technique I did like was Kim’s use of letters in order to skip over long periods of time. This way, the reader is able to learn what is occurring, but isn’t bogged down in unnecessary storytelling.
Najin is a great character that I really enjoyed getting to know. I loved how strong she was, yet how flexible she had to be in order to deal with whatever was thrown at her. I thought the juxtaposition of tradition vs. modernism, and how determined Najin’s mother was to ensure that she was educated was incredibly interesting. Najin is the embodiment of the change within Korea at that time; it was very well done. I also sympathized with her plight, especially when she was at the house of her in-laws. Kim really makes the reader emotionally involved in Najin’s life.
The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a wonderful historical fiction read that I highly recommend. If I’m not mistaken, there isn’t much in this genre about Korea, so it’s an opportunity to learn a lot about a place we really should know more about. I definitely think any fans of historical fiction or Asian literature would enjoy this novel.
Thank you to the Amazon Vine program for sending me this book to review.