The Calligrapher's Daughter
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The Calligrapher's Daughter

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3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  3,591 ratings  ·  610 reviews
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 tradit...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published August 4th 2009)
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Patricia Callegari
Some reviewers have written that this book starts too slowly, but I was captivated from the opening sentence, "I learned I had no name on the same day I learned fear."

At the heart of the story, told from several points of view, is Najin, the calligrapher's daughter. Though headstrong and ambitious, she is bound in ways Westerners cannot understand to family and tradition.

Based loosely on the lives of her parents, the author has fashioned a story that seamlessly weaves a tapestry of ancient &...more
Chrissie
I do not recommend this book. If I ask myself what I think of it, my response is: Yeah well, it was OK. I have no enthusiasm. I have no urge to try and convince you to pick it up. You can learn a bit from the book. There are some interesting facts about Korean history, but you can just as well skim Wikipedia. A book of historical fiction is supposed to make history come alive. The book doesn’t do that.

If you choose to read this book you must be aware that the religious content is a very central...more
Blodeuedd Finland
Another win. This was a great book, and I would recommend it to fans of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathie, and even Memoirs of a geisha by Arthur Golden. I got the same feeling as I got from those books, and not just because those took place in China and Japan, and this one in Korea. No, it was because two of those were about real events, and in this one the author was inspired by her mother's story. There was reality and everyday life. And l...more
Amy
Anyone who has been reading my reviews knows I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite historical novels are based on some actual event, educate me about places and times that I know very little about, and are both well written and well researched. The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim fits all the above mentioned criteria. Based in part on the experiences of Kim’s own mother, The Calligrapher’s Daughter opens in the early twentieth century Korea, at the end of the Joseon Dynasty. Naji...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I've been trying SO hard to like this book. I keep telling myself if I read just a little more, maybe things will gel and I can "bond" with the book. But after almost 100 pages it's just not happening for me, so I'm done trying. This is a book where the writing is quite good but the storytelling is not, if that makes sense. She takes FOR.....EV.....ER to build up to a particular event, and then when something happens, it doesn't really *happen*. She passes over it quickly and goes back to buildi...more
Christine
Soft, gentle prose shapes an unnamed girl’s story as she endures a diminished pedigree, loss of hopes and home together with a failed marriage during the Japanese occupation of Korea in Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter.

A traditional, upperclass Korean man, the girl’s father shows his disappointment at the birth of a daughter, by declining to name her when her birth coincides with the fall of Korea to the Japanese. Najin, as the girl comes to be nicknamed at age eight, struggles to under...more
Amy
All I knew about pre Korean-War history was, well, nothing. So I found myself doing research on the side as I'm apt to do when reading about an unfamiliar place or time. But the lack of knowledge didn't hurt when reading this book, the story of early 20th century Korea comes out through the unnamed daughter, Najin, and her family & friends.

It's beautiful. Hauntingly and achingly beautiful. Najin seems so real - conflicted about everything - tradition vs progress, love vs freedom, so forth a...more
Felice
The intimate story of the novel is the life of the unnamed daughter of a successful calligrapher. Coming as she did with the Japanese so to speak the daughter is viewed by her father Han as a shame brought on the family and Han refuses to name the girl. As the Japanese take over more and more of the government, police and culture in Korea, Han becomes bitter and resentful. He is an artist and activist, a scholar who struggles to recapture Korea's glory and independence.

Najin's life, as the daugh...more
Susan
Sep 05, 2010 Susan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Susan by: My F2F book club
“I learned I had no name on the same day I learned fear.” The haunting first line promises good things to come and does not disappoint. This Korean daughter was called Najin, the town of her mother, in lieu of a name because her father would not grant her a naming ceremony or a name.

Najin's family is very traditional and privileged at the beginning of the 20th century, when Japan starts dominating Korea. As a girl child, Najin is taught traditions and restraints incomprehensible to most of us to...more
Brian
This is the story of a Korean family struggling through the decades leading up to and including WW II. It specifically follows the daughter of a traditional Korean scholar.

There are several themes...

1. The loss of cultural identity as Japan absorbs Korea and attacks China.

2. The loss of traditional Korean family values between the generation of the father and that of the daughter.

3. A crisis of faith. The protagonists are Christian and believe their suffering to be part of a plan, which over...more
Belinda
What I learned is that I have had it way too easy in my Western lifestyle, chock full of running water, indoor plumbing, no fear of occupation by a brutal nation, and not supressed by a patriarchial society that prizes obedience, servitude, and humility in its women. Whew.

Having said (typed) all that, I'm fascinated by women who live in these cultures and find ways to survive and even thrive. "Thousand Splendid Suns", "Memoirs of a Geisha", and "Wild Swans" are other books I've read with similar...more
Kristin Lee Williams
I'll tell you the truth about this one: I almost gave it up. The first 1/3 or so of the book is pretty slow moving and I had a hard time getting in to it. Then, all of the sudden, it takes off and turns in to one of the most beautifully moving books I've ever read.

I loved the insight into Korean culture and history. I learned a lot that gave me some new thoughts about the Korea of today. I especially loved the father in the story. He was a difficult, crusty-seeming man but he was losing everyth...more
Eugenia Kim
May 30, 2010 Eugenia Kim added it  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
I wrote this book.
Tara Chevrestt
This is truly a heartwarming and lovely tale, one of those novels that touches you in such a way, you hate for it to end. It is story of a Korean girl and her mother, a story of a proud nation battling the aggressiveness of another, a story of a man coming to understand and accept that old ways and lifestyle must change, and a story of love that survives many hardships. All these stories in one magnificent novel. The Korean girl, Najin, is growing up in a very Confucian household. Her mother, ho...more
Sandra
Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter is a journey through Korean history, describing life in Korea under Japanese rule, and the effect of the war that followed.

I can only imagine that this book was not meant for the Korean public, but much more for a public unaware of Korean history, as the book is quite factual and fills you in on many happenings during this time. A South Korean friend of mine actually explained Korean history in a similar fashion as happened here in the book: factual, wit...more
Diana
This book took me a long time to get through partially because it goes so slowly, and partially because I know nothing about the Japanese occupation of Korea. I think the author assumes the reader knows more than they do. I definitely learned a lot about that period of time, but I felt like the main character fell flat for me. The book is seemingly supposed to revolve around her, but suddenly the author would write chapters devoted to the mom, the father and even a few times, the brother. I woul...more
Rebecca Huston
For a first novel this one was very good, with the heroine, Najin, being a wee bit of a doormat, but it was the secondary characters and story that kept me going. Set during the Japanese occupation in Korea on through to the end of WWII, this one turned out to be much better than I thought it would be. Too, the author thoughtfully included a glossary and an author's note. All in all, I really liked this one, and I suspect that I just might reread it again in the future sometime. Four stars overa...more
Wendy
I'm wavering between giving this 3 or 4 stars, but I think the author fell a little short of making this a great novel. Her knowledge of the history of Korea during the Japanese invasion is unquestionable, but I think she lacked a connection with the storyline. There was the typical traditional father who treated his daughter as if she were worthless and the lazy no-good son who was the antithesis of all his father's hopes and dreams. However, the relationship between Najin and her mother brough...more
Pamela
Gaining understanding of differing eras, cultures, customs, regions, beliefs, and ideologies through well-written historical fiction is a wonderful and enriching experience. Eugenia Kim takes readers on an enlightening journey into early twentieth-century Korea during the transitional years of Japanese occupation. The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a bittersweet coming of age story, as well as a spiritual-quest where ancient Confucius beliefs intertwine and collide with modern Christianity in the Na...more
Zara
The narrative is delicate and sensitive as the mannerisms and language of traditional Korean propriety. And though the daughter of the calligrapher is born unnamed, her strength of character and unwavering discipline and grace evolves as naturally, artistically, and raw as the process of calligraphy itself. It goes without saying that the art of Korean calligraphy is one engraved with history, tradition, years of training, depth of feeling, artistic pride, and fluidity.

Yes, the novel is about th...more
Kate Davis
Jul 22, 2010 Kate Davis rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kirsten Gallagher
Shelves: 2010, library
When visiting the library with my 1.5 year old daughter this book caught my eye in the 'Quick Pick' section. I've previously read and enjoyed several Asia based books so assumed I would like this one as well.

Most of the book is written in the style of an autobiography, but there are sections from the view points of other characters as well. It was enjoyable to read, but slow to get in to as not much happened for the first third; in my mind this is fine for an autobiography, but from fiction I wa...more
Kristine Brancolini
Eugenia Kim is an extremely gifted writer and her lyrical prose is perfectly suited to this book based on the life of her mother and her struggles during the 35 years that Korea was occupied by Japan, 1910-1945. These years also correspond to the first 35 years of Najin Han's life.

Kim deftly portrays the radical changes that the Han family went through as their aristocratic way of life was slowly and systematically destroyed by the Japanese. Najin narrates most of the book and through her the r...more
El
I'm going to preface this review by admitting that I do not know much about Korean history, and the little bit of personal experience I have comes from what I've learned from the characters Lane Kim and her mother on Gilmore Girls, and from what I understand of the two Korean surgeons where I work.

With that said, I adored this book. It covers 30 years in the life of Najin Han, the daughter of a calligrapher. Her father, the calligrapher, is traditional in all senses of the word and wants to marr...more
Jodi
Oct 11, 2009 Jodi rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ?
It took me awhile to get into this book and follow Najin throughout the various stages of her life. I admired her tenacity to get an education in a time when women's education wasn't valued in Korea. I was happy for her when she "fell in love" and married with the promise of continuing her education in America. However, her dream of America was crushed the day after her wedding when she began an 11 year separation from her husband because she was forbidden to leave her country by the government....more
Carla
This is a story set in Korea just after the turn on the 20th century, until after World War II. It's the story of Nadjin, the first-born of a famous artist/calligrapher. Her father is steeped in the culture and traditions of his country and fiercely resents the annexation and rule of Korea by Japan. He is very traditional and discounts the value of a tomboyish highly intelligent girl. His disdain goes so deep that he fails to choose a name for her or have a naming ceremony on her 100th day as is...more
Kate
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rebecca
Interesting look at a very tumultuous time in Korea's history (1910-1945 roughly) told through the eyes of a woman from childhood to middle age. Well written if slightly dry due to large amount of (probably necessary) exposition. This is a good introduction to a time and place that most Americans know nothing about. I liked it. The other 8 people in my book club really liked it.
Bookmarks Magazine
Inspired by the life of Kim's mother, The Calligrapher's Daughter covers a relatively unknown chapter (to Western eyes) in world history. Critics found Japanese-occupied Korea an intriguing setting that serves to distinguish Kim's work from an abundance of Asian mother-daughter novels, and Najin's conflict with her traditional father skillfully mirrors Korea's bitter struggle with occupying forces. Although several reviewers noted an abrupt ending and occasional slow passages, they also lauded K...more
MAP
An engaging story following a Korean girl at the beginning of the 20th century, her struggles with the Japanese occupation, modernity vs. tradition, her desire for an education, and a prolonged separation from her husband. I came to this book knowing nothing about early 20th century Korea or the Japanese occupation, save that it happened, and I followed and enjoyed this immensely, and learned a lot of history along the way.

The book does drag in a few places, and has a frustratingly abrupt ending...more
Isis
I found the setting - Korea under Japanese occupation - fascinating, but that's about it for fascination. This is a boring book that collapses under the sheer weight of its exposition, with prose that is sometimes beautifully evocative, but more often plodding and murky. The POV switches between first-person (Najin) and third-person (everyone else, mostly her father), which I find irritating in the extreme. Najin holds progressive views but never acts on them, doubts her faith but never explores...more
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Eugenia Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who came 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 teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program at Fairfield University. The Calligrapher’s D...more
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