Friday, 21 May 2010

Review. The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

Genre: Fiction
Pages: 400
Published: 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.

A sweeping debut novel, inspired by the life of the author’s mother, about a young woman who dares to fight for a brighter future in occupied Korea

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. 

Another win. This was a great book, and I would recommend it to fans of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathie, and even Memoirs of  a geisha by Arthur Golden. I got the same feeling as I got from those books, and not just because those took place in China and Japan, and this one in Korea. No, it was because two of those were about real events, and in this one the author was inspired by her mother's story. There was reality and everyday life. And life in a time of turmoil.

This was the story about Najin, a girl who is not named and gets her name by mistake, a name that doesn't even mean anything. She lives in Korea, a country occupied by Japan, and life gets harder and harder as the Japanese tries to oppress the people. She is headstrong, much to her fathers regret. And thanks to her mother she gets to attend missionary school, and she has a real yearning for education. But her father wants to hold on to the old ways, and tradition. While she wants more. 

I admired her a lot, because she was so strong and wanted so much. And then there is the way they spoke then, I was fascinated. She meets the emperor and thanks him for remembering a a screen her dad had painted.

"Thank you for your Imperial Highness's kindness to this persons worthless family.
And that is not the only time she says something like that, but it is used in other places. So yes rather fascinated by the way they spoke back then.

It is a story about a girl growing up, going to school, and everyday life. And watching the political unrest around her. Her dad getting beaten and put in jail, people dying after a failed protest march, a woman taking her own life after being raped by soldiers. Land being given away to Japanese families, and Korean families starving. At the same time she also spends time at court, and watches the fall of the royal family, as the emperor is murdered. Her dad who was a famous calligrapher, and who had a lot of money slowly poorer and poorer.

But she never says that this is wrong, and this is right. The book tells it as she sees it, and also sometimes from her father's and mother's POV. There is also a mention about a certain rebel leader up north, but her dad is not so big on communists, even if they fight the Japanese.

This was such an enjoyable story. 30 years of Korean history in a country that truly changed during that time. There is friendship, hardship, and even romance promised as the grows up as the Armstrong woman she was.
A truthful look at a time gone by.

Blodeuedd's Cover Corner: Very pretty.
Reason for Reading. I picked this one out from the catalogue they had.
Final thoughts: I recommend it. It was a lovely story, and so well told....4


  1. Wow...this story sounds really interesting and the cover is just gorgeous!

  2. Sounds good, B! I must say that I enjoyed Wild Swans eons ago ;) I'm not sure if I still would, but maybe I will like Ms Kim's book.

  3. Susi
    So simple in a way, and so beautiful, and so her.

    I loved that book too, and I was so upset when they burned books! Broke my heart.
    Anyway this is a book to check out, so real.

  4. It does sound good. Have you ever read The Ginger Tree?

  5. Chris,
    I had a look at it at Amazon and it sounded good, but of course none of the libraries near had it

  6. This sounds a lovely story and something I would enjoy so have added it to the list.

  7. This sounds like a fascinating story B, I like stories steeped in oriental history. The fact that the heroine is so strong makes it even better!

    Thanks for the great review.


  8. You did a beautiful job on this review. I like this story as well.

  9. I love that cover too and it sounds like there is a fascinating story within the pages!!

  10. sounds fantastic and the cover is so pretty. Great review!

  11. Awesome review! I love a strong female lead character! I think my mom read this one and liked it :)

  12. This really sounds like something I would like. I've seen it online too, but wasn't sure if it would appeal to me prior to reading your review.

  13. I really loved the Memoirs of a Geisha,so I think this is definitely one I should read.

  14. Chris
    That's life

    I do think you could like it :)

    I sure like those kinds of stories too, I have found so many lovely ones during the years.

    Thanks Diane,
    Such a great books :)

  15. Staci
    I recommend it highly :) So simple in a way, and such realism. Everyday life, even if there is drama too'

    Thanks Naida :)

    She has good taste then, lol. I really enjoyed Naijins quest for an education

    I do think you could like it, it has those great elements.

    I devoured that book, I was enthralled, and if you liked that one then I am sure you would like this one

  16. This sounds like a really interesting read. Great review!

  17. What an interesting sounds book!! I don't know if I have ever read a book based on Korean history.

  18. So glad you liked this book as I just brought it home this week.

  19. Thanks Yvonne,
    I do like these kinds of books, they are so real

    I have read half a book, one part took place in Modern England, and one part in 18th century Korea, so good.

    I sure hope you will like it too :D

  20. Ooh, great review! I feel I may be one of the few who hasn't read Wild Swans in blogosphere. But it seems to get great reviews, and I'm glad you really liked this one as well!

  21. Aarti
    Do read Wild Swans, the book is great, so moving, horrible, yes everything.

  22. Wonderful review Linda! I loved Golden's work, and this puts me in mind of it. The way everyday life is written and described. Thanks for the recommendation.

  23. Thanks to your review, I've just added this to my to-read list!

    Diary of an Eccentric



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