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The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

by Eugenia Kim

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5014120,341 (3.92)56
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    The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston (Anonymous user)
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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 |
I learned I had no name on the same day I learned fear. Until that day, I had answered to Baby, Daughter or Child, so for the first five years of my life hadn't known I ought to have a name. Nor did I know that those years had seen more than fifty thousand of my Korean countrymen arrested and hundreds more murdered.

When a daughter is born to calligrapher Han and his wife shortly after the Japanese occupation of Korea, Han refuses to name her until the occupation ends. Najin eventually gets her unusual name through an American missionary's misunderstanding of a conversation. She hears adults speak of “self-determination” and, when it is explained to her, she decides that's what she wants for her life. Self-determination won't be easy with a father who clings to traditional ways in defiance of the new Japanese laws, nor with the ever-increasing restrictions the Japanese are imposing on Koreans. Najin has her mother's love and support, but she struggles with doubt as she tries to emulate her mother's strong Christian faith.

The words on the page embodied textures, tastes, and smells so strong that I felt I was in Korea with Najin. I was particularly fascinated by the intersection of Christianity and traditional Korean culture. Church was central to Najin's family. Najin's mother had internalized her Christian faith, while her father never really gave up his Confucian principles. Christianity was compatible with those ideals so he was able to integrate them into a system that worked. Najin struggled with her faith because of the suffering and injustice she experienced. The historical afterword explains that Korean Christianity was not the result of missionary efforts, but rather it came to Korea by way of Bibles that a Korean scholar brought back from China in the 17th century. Now I'll be looking for a history of Christianity in Korea to find out more.

Highly recommended for readers with an interest in early 20th century Korean history, Japanese history, women's history, or family novels. Although most readers wouldn't classify this novel as Christian fiction, it will appeal to many readers of Christian fiction. ( )
5 vote cbl_tn | Sep 17, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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