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The Calligrapher's Daughter [Hardcover]

Eugenia Kim
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Aug 2009
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 fourteen-year-old Najin into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends her daughter 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 change her world forever. 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 Calligapher's Daughter is an exquisite novel 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.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company; 1 edition (4 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089127
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16.8 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,833,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eugenia Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who went to America shortly after the Pacific War. An MFA graduate of Bennington College, she has published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER is her first novel, and she is working on her second.

Eugenia teaches creative writing at Fairfield University's low-residency MFA program, which meets twice a year on a stunning tiny monastic island off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut. She is The 2012 Eli Cantor Fellow at the Corporation of Yaddo, the 2011 Stanford Calderwood Fellow at The MacDowell Colony, and a fellow at Hedgebrook.

She lives in Washington, DC, meaning she is one of 500,000 U.S. citizens who have no vote in congress.

Product Description

Review

`Eugenia Kim's sensitive first novel, which depicts thirty years of Korea's modern history in light of its ancient, is an illuminating prequel to present-day events ... Kim recounts a poignant family history, much of it based on her own mothers life ... The narrative is keenly and often lyrically observed ... Kim's account acquires depth and immediacy as she draws vivid pictures of wartime poverty and hardship ... In quietly recording the arc of a woman's experience from idyllic childhood through harrowing adulthood, Kim mirrors the changing nation' --Washington Post

`A beautiful, deliberate and satisfying story spanning thirty years of Korean history . . . Elegant' --Publishers Weekly

`Exquisite ... hauntingly beautiful ... from the first gripping sentence you'll fear coming to the final sentence of this fascinating debut' --The Examiner

`The Calligrapher's Daughter fascinated me, as much for its characters as for its engrossing story of Korea under the Japanese occupation. Najin's father is admirable for exactly the traits that make him difficult, and her apparently passive mother is heroic. I can't stop thinking about them and their honest, brave, and very human daughter' --Alice Mattison, author of The Book Borrower

`Kim has excelled at portraying Najin as a spirited yet loyal daughter and wife while exposing a tragic time during Korea's sustained history as a nation' --Library Journal --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Eugenia Kim is the daughter of Korean parents who immigrated to America shortly after the Pacific War. She has published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings, and is an MFA graduate of Bennington College. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. The Calligrapher's Daughter is her first novel. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars True to Her Own Belief 24 Mar 2010
By Richard M. Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
An interesting tale set in Korea in 1915 (and the next 30 years)whilst the country was occupied by Japan. It's written in the first person as though the writer had actually been there and she does manage to capture much of the hardships and cruelty imposed by the Japanese but also there is the cruelty of men to wives and daughters and their domination of women.

In these times it is difficult to imagine women allowing themselves to be brought up to care only for their fathers, brothers or husbands, imagining their needs and ensuring that they are fulfilled in every way. But the `writer' is starting to be headstrong and aware of what she wants in the world. She rebels quietly when her father wishes her to marry and her mother persuades her aunt to arrange for the writer to serve as a companion to the young princess. When the king is assassinated, hundreds of years of Korean culture dies. And the writer has to return home.

Intertwined with the narrative about the daughter is the relationship of missionaries with the Korean people and how some become Christians whilst others also worship their old gods as well as Christ.

The poverty and the cruelty of the Japanese army is well illustrated. How people coped is difficult to imagine but throughout it all, the `writer' carries the reader along as she remains true to her desire to be her own persons whilst suffering deprivation and imprisonment..

I enjoyed the story but felt it needed pruning and the editor could have encouraged Eugenia Kim to be more judicious in her writing. It reminded me of The Red Princess by Margaret Forster but the writing was not as tight. There seems to be a plethora of books nowadays telling the history of different countries through the eyes of people living through the different events.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning! 8 Mar 2010
By CJ Craig VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is one of the best books I have read in years. Eugenia Kim has so completely captured the time and place of Korea in the early twentieth century that once you start reading you are transported there. I am not one to usually pick up a 'period piece' or historical fiction but this book is such a delight. Well-written, complete characters that draw you to themselves and a story so in-tune with the actual history that the reader learns without knowing it. I had a hard time putting it down. I do hope Eugenia Kim has a second novel on the way because I want to read more by this very promising author. Such a change from so many of the novels that appear today. This one is unique in its story, setting and characters. I really can't say more than to highly recommend this book to one and all. Hopefully it will become part of someone's book club - Richard and Judy, Channel 4, Sky Arts - are you reading this? A brilliant book in every way.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Calligrapher's Daughter 22 Dec 2011
By Sam
Format:Paperback
Najin Han is born in Korea just as it becomes a colony of Japan in 1910 and grows up in a country that is mourning the loss of its freedom and age-old traditions. Her father clings on to traditional views and customs in the face of rapid change and discrimination, making it hard for Najin to gain an education and employment. As the rule of Japan becomes more oppressive and opportunities for Koreans narrow, Najin must do all she can to support her family and balance her traditional upbringing with Japanese rule and the reality of modern Korea.

The Calligrapher's Daughter is a leisurely read packed full of lovely description. From the winter snow to the rustle of clothes to the smell of cooking, I felt as though Kim had transported me back in time and half way around the world to Korea. Unlike a lot of historical fiction, she used showing rather than telling as her main literary device. Despite not being explicitly told that 'yangban' meant a respected class of people in former Korea, it was easy to guess this through the use of the word. And there was a lot of this trust in the reader to work things out for themselves, which I really liked as it made me feel like an observer to the story, rather than the main reason the story is being told.

Najin was a likeable main character and it was hard as a modern woman not to sympathise with her struggles against her father's traditional views. Najin goes through hardships and good times during the course of the novel and I definitely empathised with her when things were rough. A lot of the story is apparently based on the story of Eugenia Kim's family, which added a bit of weight to the story and my reaction to it.

I do think there were some pacing issues with this novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rewarding read 21 April 2010
By D. Pearce VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This story, on the surface, may seem to be another in the current wave of oriental novels. However, it is different in one very important respect. It is set in Korea during the Japanese occupation and benefits from being an unknown era and country to most people.
The novel is beautifully written and it draws you in, but you have to be prepared to work at it in the early chapters as you get used to the characters and setting. Once you have done, this story of Nanjin Han, a character based on Eugenia Kim's own mother will grip and fascinate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most poignant 20 Mar 2010
By C. C. Chivers VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I loved this story. It is set in Korea in 1915 during the time when Japan invaded and took the country to war with China and ends in 1945 when the Americans entered the country.

Being of part Chinese decent, it helped me understand some things about that side of my own culture. It showed the strict and formal social behaviour required by everyone and how modernisation affected the old and young in dramatically and extremely difficult ways. How hard is it to have your entire existence, based on ancient rituals, slowly and persistantly eroded and being completely unable to stop it? And yet, how glorious is it to be set free and given the choice of your own destiny, but having to fight for it every step of the way?

Such is the story of Han Najin, officially unnamed at birth for the sake of a father's pride, who named herself and strived against centuries of tradition to find her own way. It is also the story of her entire family and how each of them coped and dealt with the inevitable change that inexorably advanced upon them. It is also a snapshot into their culture, showing that you do not need demonstrations of love to know how deeply it runs in a family.

It is a story about survival, perserverence, love, religious faith, duty and determination. I recommend this book to everyone because it is a little of everything: biographical (culturally), romantic, historical, modern and just a damn good read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I love being whisked away to another time and place
I love being whisked away to another time and place, this book did just that, and made me look into the History of the time. I would recommend this book.
Published 2 days ago by J E Hedley
4.0 out of 5 stars a family saga of hardship
Spanning years this is the story of how traditions change in response to political upheavals. At times moving but a difficult read owing to korean names, political references and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rosemary Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautifully written.
Published 2 months ago by Angela Short
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
really good read
Published 3 months ago by leylandlass
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
A very refreshing account of conflict, anguish and life generally from a different age - slightly old fashioned in style but beautifully written given compassionately and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Beatrice
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written
I loved this book. It was easy to read yet also had great depth. I learnt so much about everyday life in Korea, what it was like to be a woman in a society where women are far less... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Anya
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely read
Loved this book a bit long on some pages but the detail was brilliant, it,s hard to see how hard it was for so many people living under all the rules,
Published 9 months ago by phoebeav
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and really interesting
A time/place/culture i know nothing of so as well as a good read I learnt a lot. Beautifully written with characters that were well developed
Published 9 months ago by julia
4.0 out of 5 stars The Calligraphers daughter
I didn't expect to enjoy this book, but soon became caught by the story, how strange the culture was and how those events are still effecting events in the Far East today.
Published 10 months ago by CHRIS
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting character development
A very well written book. It had key historical facts but made them interesting rather then boring. There was enough emotional conflict to keep the story interesting. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Justine Knight
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