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- [-] Other Available FormatsOur PriceNew & Used MarketplaceThe Calligrapher's Daughter (Paperback)
Publisher: Holt McDougal$12.62The Calligrapher's Daughter (Audio Compact Disc - Unabridged)
Publisher: Tantor Media Inc$35.99
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 28.
- Review Date: 2009-06-01
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
Finding her place in turn-of-the-century Korea
Author Amy Tan created her own subgenre of popular literature back in the late 1980s (sweeping, semi-autobiographical stories of family, loyalty and love set in various Asian times and cultures), beginning with The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. More recently, Lisa See has carried the torch with Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love.
Now, first-time novelist Eugenia Kim confidently enters the field with The Calligrapher’s Daughter, a bold, richly detailed story about the young daughter of a well-known calligrapher in turn-of-the-20th-century Korea.
Najin Han was born in a Korea already under Japanese occupation. Her father, Nin, clings to the traditions of a dynastic country he feels slipping away (even serving time in prison for his loyalty). He looks to marry his only daughter off to the young son of a respectable family, but Najin and her mother resist, wanting more for her life. They secretly arrange for her to serve on the royal court as a companion to the princess, a betrayal Nin only discovers later through a letter sent to his wife.
But when the king is assassinated, young Najin leaves the court seeking to further her education and find freedom amid oppression. After a thwarted attempt to join her husband in America, she remains in Korea as a teacher, but like so many of her countrymen, never stops seeking a better life.
The daughter of Korean immigrants, Kim grew up hearing stories of her family’s life before the Korean War. A dearth of literature about the lives of Korean women during the occupation led Kim to interview her mother. That, with other meticulous research, helped the Washington, D.C., resident paint this vivid, heartfelt portrait of faith, love and life for one family during a pivotal time in history.
Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.