Kim, Eugenia. The Calligrapher’s Daughter. New York: Henry Holt, 2010.
This is the story of Najin Han from childhood to womanhood in early 20th century Korea. Najin Han begins her life on Korea’s cusp of Japanese occupation as a curious child who often tests the boundaries of her small world by spying on the adult conversations of her parents. As a child she sees and experiences the beginnings of the Japanese occupation but does not completely understand it. As she matures her world changes colors and she watches the political boundaries and tests the cultural ones. From a young age she has wanted to determine her own destiny and as a result Najin grows up to be a headstrong woman, having been pulled in different directions by everyone around her. Into Korean adulthood (by age 12) her mother continues to encourage Najin to foster personal growth and even helps her pursue an education. To avoid a prearranged marriage Najin’s mother sends her to a king’s count to be a companion for the princess; a very unconventional idea for a woman in early 20th century Korea. Meanwhile, her father is a staunch believer in Old World traditions and customs. He fiercely tries to hold onto Korea while the country slowly loses independence.
As an aside, I can’t imagine growing up without a parental given name. But that is what Najin Han experiences. She is nameless until an American misunderstands an introduction. To Kim’s credit it is beautiful the way she comes full circle with Najin’s maturity concerning identity.
Author Fact: The Calligrapher’s Daughter is Eugenia Kim’s first book.
Book Trivia: The Calligrapher’s Daughter is based on the life of Eugenia Kim’s mother and most of the political aspects of the novel are true.
ps~ If you ever get the chance listen to the audio version after you read the print. It’s amazing.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Korea – North and South” (p 127).