Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Summary: 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. -- Henry Holt


I had heard so many wonderful things about THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER by Eugenia Kim that I just knew I had to read it. I absolutely love historical fiction (and especially Asian fiction), and this book just really drew me in. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, but the story just sounded so appealing too. What put me over the edge was when my "friend" Hyatt Bass (author of the awesome book THE EMBERS -- see my review) couldn't stop raving about it on twitter. She assured me that it's a book not to miss. I couldn't agree with her more!

I highly recommend THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER especially if you are a fan of historical fiction. The story is compelling, the characters are well developed and the writing is beautiful! I really, really enjoyed this book! When I started reading this novel, I wasn't familiar with the history of Korea at all, so I feel like I learned a great deal about that country and its inhabitants. I thought the author did a wonderful job of incorporating the story of Korea and all of its changes along with the story of Najin and her personal changes. It was extremely well done, and it touched me deeply!

One thing that really struck me about this novel was the character of Najin, the calligrapher's daughter. I fell in love with her! Ms. Kim developed Najin so well that I felt as if I knew her. Every time she experienced the ups and downs in her life (and there were many), my heart just went out to her. At times, life was extremely unfair to her; yet she always was able to keep perspective and keep moving ahead -- I honestly don't know how she did it. I finished this book a few days ago, and I will admit that Najin is still in my thoughts. She was an amazing character and one who has made a lasting impact on me.

Besides Najin, I absolutely adored her mother! She is also a very memorable character for me because of her inner strength. Najin's mother loved her so much that she was willing to stand up for her against her husband, even if it meant she had to incur his wrath. She devoted her entire life to making things better for her daughter, and she was continually generous with whatever she could provide to Najin. Her strength and resilience were so admirable -- I loved how she was able to use her faith and spirituality to get through difficult times.

Another thing I absolutely enjoyed about this book was all of the historical information that was presented. As I mentioned earlier, I knew nothing about the history of Korea, especially as it pertained to Japan. I found it absolutely fascinating, but I was even more amazed with all of the changes that occurred in this country in a relatively short time period. I thought Ms. Kim did a wonderful job of showing all of the turmoil, and I truly appreciated how she used Najin's father as a symbol of the traditional culture throughout the entire book.

I thought Ms. Kim did a fantastic job of telling Najin's story. Most of the book was written in first person from Najin's point of view since it really was her story. I loved having Najin's insight into the events in her life as well as what was occurring in Korea -- I felt as if I really could understand her feelings and that I got to know her as a friend. While I loved these chapters, I also liked that the story was written using other methods -- some parts of the story were written in third person and others were written in the form of letters. I loved the mix that the author used to tell this story, and I thought the blend was extremely effective. In addition, I thought the author's prose was just beautiful. I really couldn't put this book down.

There is a fantastic website devoted to THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER that I found enhanced my reading experience. Of course, you can learn more about the book and the author, but you can also see a photo gallery of Ms. Kim's family. In addition, I really enjoyed reading the interview with the author because it provided some insight into her inspiration for writing the novel.

There is so much about this novel that I would like to mention in this review but it would go on forever. As a result, I would love for my book club to read and discuss THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER because I still have so much to say! Not only did I love the story and the writing, but there are also so many thought-provoking issues to discuss. I have a feeling that this novel is going to be a popular choice for book clubs everywhere. I was happy to see that there is already a reading guide available which is filled with many of the same topics that I wanted to explore further. Some of the main themes that your group will want to touch on include traditions, family values, the role of women, faith and spirituality, marriage, political and social issues, and self-discovery. It truly is a great book for discussion!

A huge thanks to Hyatt Bass and the publisher for sending me a copy of this wonderful book!

20 comments:

Nicole said...

I have been reading more books about Asian culture lately but mostly Chinese and Japanese. The two books I have read about Koreans were set in America. I love historical fiction and intricate family stories, so this definitely sound like it would be a good fit.

bermudaonion said...

I love Asian historical fiction, so I'm really anxious to read this book. Najin and her mother sound like characters a lot of us can relate to. Great review!

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I read about this book in The Book Page and immediately added it to my Goodreads list. I'm glad it's worthy reading!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

It sounds like you really, really liked this! I keep hearing good things about it! Thanks for such a great review!

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

I REALLY want to read this one. The author is a local (DC) and I've missed all of her local signings. Some day, I will meet her!

Heather said...

I've been wanting to read this one. It looks so so good! I love historical fiction and I love Asian historical fiction the most! I will definitely get my hands on this one. Great review!

Jo-Jo said...

I also love Asian historical fiction so this sounds like another one that I need to add to my list! I'm glad you liked it Julie...thanks for the review.

softdrink said...

Yay! Another fan! I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this book around the blogosphere, it really is a wonderful book.

lizzy J said...

I want to read this one too! So many people have said it is a really good read. Now I have to read it.

Book Escape said...

You convinced me. This book sounds fantastic!

Laura's Reviews said...

Wow - I haven't heard of this book, but your review of it is fantastic. This sounds like a book I'd love to read. I'm adding it to my TBR list. Thanks again for the review!

Gwendolyn B. said...

This is coming up in my TBR stack. I'm looking forward to it all the more after reading your thoughts!

Beth F said...

This was already on my wish list, but your review has made me more excited to read it. Thanks!

Tracie Yule said...

I've been looking for another book to read set in Asia. I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and completely fell in love with it. I'll put this on my TBR pile!

Jen - devourer of books said...

I'm so mad I didn't get this read before someone at the library requested it and I had to take it back. I'll have to try again ASAP.

Serena said...

This sounds like another good read that I've missed somehow!

S. Krishna said...

I felt the same way about this book. I knew next to nothing about Korean history when I picked it up, so it was really interesting.

Literate Housewife said...

Oh, I'm really going to have to read this novel! It sounds wonderful. Great review!

Kailana said...

I really want to read this! I am just waiting for it to come in for me at the library. :)

Tam @ Bailey's and Books said...

I have really wanted to read this as well, I love historical fiction, especially Asian historical fiction. I am looking forward to finally reading this.