The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim falls under multiple categories for me: epic, historical, Asian literature. It the story a Najin who is born in Korea as the Japanese colonize Korea. Her father is very much a traditionalist, a calligrapher for the Korean dynasty, and deeply an artist at heart. Najin flourishes among the changes that occur as a result of the occupation, but maintains her commitment to her Korean culture. It’s a story of love and family and culture.
I struggled a bit with this one as a read, wondering at points if I would give it up. At the beginning the writing was a bit dry and overly laden with details, but as I moved past the first third of the book, it became much more engaging. Kim has a unique voice, and her writing is good. Aside from incorporating the history and the culture, Kim also writes the book from several perspectives, which is both frustrating and fascinating. Primarily the story is told from Najin’s perspective, but at times she shifts perspectives to the mother, father, and brother. The shifts add much more depth to the story as it layers the details in a creative and unexpected way.
This book really surprised me. I think I was expecting a straightforward read about a specific story taking place in a specific time in Korean history. This story had those elements, but the author did so much more with them. If you like Asian literature along the lines of Amy Tan and Lisa See it is certainly one to consider.