Christine's Reviews > The Calligrapher's Daughter

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim
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Oct 13, 09

Read in July, 2009

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 understand her namelessness. Her future clouded by her father’s opposition and sweeping government reforms, Najin cobbles together a delicate balance of her father’s ideals and the reality of Korea under Japanese rule.

Kim’s sweeping tale offers a woman’s perspective on Korea’s strict patriarchal society. Heavy with sentiment, Kim tells her mother’s winding story in an uncomplicated way. It may be historically accurate that protestant religions flourished in Korea long before missionaries arrived, but the Christian motif runs a bit rampant here, overly pedantic and at times even pushy. Thorough as a sermon, the underlying religious aspect of the novel is inseparable from its characters and, in fact, largely motivates them. At the root of the book is the bond of family, which Kim beautifully displays. Holding true to the emotional restraint of the characters, Kim heightens a reader’s ability to infer meaning from tone, posture and word selection.

No one expected anything of her, an unnamed Korean girl. But her honest struggles with identity, education, marriage and faith will resonate deeply, striking a bright and surprisingly modern chord with readers.
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Jung Sun The Christian over/undertone - whichever one may see it - plays a major part during this time in Korean history, it's not something many Westerners are aware of. Christianity was seen as a major threat to neo-Confucianism, upsetting the strict structure that it demanded in every aspect of life. It motivated the people to see worth as human beings and the right to freedom when they were under Japanese occupation. If you would like to learn the history of politics and religion in Korea there are a few books, such as Christ and Caesar in Modern Korea.


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