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The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

by Eugenia Kim

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This historical novel tells the story of a young woman, her yangban (aristocratic) family and the people of Korea, from 1915 to 1945 (during the time of the Japanese occupation and annexation of Korea). Han Najin has known a life of privilege, but has always felt constrained by the bonds of tradition and the expectations of society towards a young woman of her class. She is bright and resourceful, and matures to be an obedient and dutiful daughter – to a point. She will not marry at age 14, despite her father’s wishes, and conspires with her mother to get the advanced education she so desires. Still things do not go smoothly for Najin, her family or her country. When she does fall in love historical events keep the couple apart; their love and faith in God severely tested.

I really liked this book. I enjoy reading about a culture and time that is new to me, and I must admit I was completely ignorant of much of Korea’s rich history. However, I did think the book could have used some editing; I thought certain issues were unnecessarily repeated. (How many scenes of deprivation do we need to read to understand the difficulties the Koreans faced during this time?) I also had to remind myself several times not to judge Najin by today’s American standards; that is probably more my fault as a reader. I gritted my teeth with each subservient remark; I wanted to throttle her father and brother. Still, I managed to admire Najin for her ingenuity, courage and genuine selflessness. The ending is hopeful yet somewhat ambiguous, and I like that. I much prefer to let my imagination carry the story further, than to have it spelled out.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
interesting read, for the unknown history of korea. And because of the resilience of the main character. I also liked the relationship between mother and daughter ( )
  EllaTim | Aug 3, 2015 |
The strength of this book is in its historical information about political and cultural Korea in the early 20th century. Based on Eugenia Kim's own family's experience she gives a sympathetic and informative account of those year of the Japanese annexation of Korea and the second world war. The novel focusses on the experiences of one family, mostly from the perspective of Najin Han, a woman who has wanted to decide her own destiny from being a child and lives in a Christian household. This proves difficult as culture and politics get in the way. The Japanese are cruel invaders who squash the language and culture of Korea. Najin's father wants to hang on to the traditional ways and does not see why anything needs to change and he constantly clashes with his daughter who embraces and welcomes change. I learnt a lot about Korea from reading this book and it prompted me to do some additional reading. Well written, the narrative kept me interested throughout. ( )
  Tifi | Jul 31, 2015 |
I had trouble getting started with this book, as it seemed a bit preachy about Christianity in Korea in the early 20th century. But I'm glad I stayed with it. It tells the story of a young Korean woman growing up as Japan overtook her country prior to WWII. Her family was Christian -- her mother devoutly so, while her father held fast to centuries of Confucian tradition. The clash of cultures between Korea, China, and Japan, among religions and political views, and within families as tradition yields to modernity all play out in this novel that reads like a memoir. It is well worth the read. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
This is the multi-generational story of a young, unnamed girl growing up in Korea during the Japanese occupation in the early 1900s. Despite her father's disapproval, Najin sets out to obtain for herself an education and a life unlike any other woman in her family. She wants to be a doctor. She wants to decide for herself who she will marry. She wants to be useful and intelligent rather than polite furniture in the home of a man. This is her story.

A very moving and engaging tale. I would get so frustrated when Najin was oppressed that I would often be in a bad mood and snap at my husband! You really pull for the protagonist and wish her every success. Loved it. ( )
  Juva | Mar 31, 2015 |
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This debut novel, inspired by the life of the author’s Korean mother, is a beautiful, deliberate and satisfying story spanning 30 years of Korean history. The tradition-bound aristocratic calligrapher Han refuses to name his daughter because she is born just as the Japanese occupy Korea early in the 20th century. When Han finds a husband for Najin (nicknamed after her mother’s birthplace) at 14, her mother objects and instead sends her to the court of the doomed royal Yi family to learn refinement. Najin goes to college and becomes a teacher, proving herself not only as a scholar but as a patriot and humanitarian. She returns home to marry, but her new husband goes without her to study in America when she is denied a visa. As the Japanese systematically obliterate ancient Korean culture and the political climate worsens, so do Najin’s fortunes. Her family is reduced to poverty, their home is seized and Najin is imprisoned as a spy while WWII escalates. The author writes at a languorous pace, choosing not to sully her elegant pages with raw brutality, but the key to the story is Korea’s monumental suffering at the hands of the Japanese. (Aug.)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eugenia Kimprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my mother and father, whose lives inspired this novel, and for my family.
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I learned I had no name on the same day I learned fear.
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Book description
(From the back of the book)
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 desperate to maintain the ways of traditional Korea, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry her into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends Najin to serve in the king's court, where, in the shadow of a dying monarchy, she begins a journey through the increasing oppression that will forever change her world. Spanning thirty years, The Calligrapher's Daughter is a novel in the tradition of Lisa See 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.
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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.… (more)

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Eugenia Kim is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Eugenia Kim chatted with LibraryThing members from Nov 23, 2009 to Dec 6, 2009. Read the chat.

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