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The Calligrapher's Daughter

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  5,601 Ratings  ·  808 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
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 4th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Eugenia Kim
May 30, 2010 added it  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote this book.
Patricia Callegari
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 &
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf, korea, bio, text-checked, japan
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
Aug 28, 2015 rated it liked it
I hadn't read historical fiction in a long time and I only started this novel because it was about Korea , which I was planning on visiting.

I didn't know anything about the Japanese invasion of Korea and I really liked the way it was explained through the eyes of the main character , a girl and then a woman without a name. Their traditional way of living before the Japanese , the influence of religion and their fight for freedom are vividly described by Eugenia Kim. Women's rights and education
Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Blodeuedd Finland
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it
History, tradition and culture all in one. A story of a girl since her younger age to marriage life-- family and love, in pursuing her dreams and being a good daughter with some religious principles in between. Few events were told beautifully depicting the feelings and hardships during the Japanese colonial rule in Korea. Content was okay though sometimes a bit slow, and character's traditional beliefs sometimes give me a bit of uneasy feeling. I'm not really into historical stuff but somehow t ...more
Kristin Lee Williams
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Susan (aka Just My Op) 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
Feb 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Zara Garcia-Alvarez of The Bibliotaphe Closet Blog
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
Kristine Brancolini
Mar 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 21st-centurylit
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
Dec 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Thirty years in the life of a famous Calligrapher's daughter in Japanese occupied Korea, 1915-1945. Knowing very little about that occupation, I found this book very informative of the time period. The first of the book is very slow...almost giving up on it, I'm glad I persevered. Two thing stand out after finishing....1) how hard life was in Korea at that time for everyone, especially if you were a woman and 2) becoming much more informed about that part of the world during the 30 years the bo ...more
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meghan by: Tina
I thought this was going to be about occupied Korea, which it is. But the main story is about one woman's journey and self discovery. And as Hallmark Channel-sounding as that is it really does make for an interesting story.

I should probably give it only 4 stars. The writing is at times uneven, with the voice altering in unexpected places, breaking the rhythm. And the ending got a little overly earnest. But I'll forgive this minor quibbles as this is a first novel and Kim tells an otherwise extra
Aug 27, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Judy King
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is set in Korea just before and during WWII -- an interesting viewpoint of those years that I've not read before. The Calligrapher's family are all Christians, Methodists, which adds another angle to the game. There are hardships, some extraordinary, there are love relationships and friendships, losses and grief...It is Truly a fine story well told
“For me, the walls of the sitting room shrank, the bindings of my skirt tightened and seized my breath. I caught a scent of the outside and inhaled deeply. Be like the rain, like water, I thought, exhaling quietly.”

Let it be known that this reading is entirely sponsored by my K-pop obsession and new-found interest in Korean everything! Thank you for your attention.

Also, this completely deserves my 4,5 stars.

I've always loved those slow-going historical fictions with a lot of introspection and
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Eugenia Kim is an MFA graduate of Bennington College, and teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program at Fairfield University. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER is her first novel, and her second novel, THE KINSHIP OF SECRETS, will be published November 6, 2018..
More about Eugenia Kim

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“It was pointless to worry about problems I didn't yet have.” 9 likes
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