The Calligrapher’s Daughter – Eugenia Kim
The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a historically significant novel depicting a fictional story of a young woman in Korea who witnesses the end of the Joseon Dynasty. It is an example of the very reason why historical fiction is my favourite genre. Eugenia Kim took 15 years to write this novel and her research was thorough to say the least.
Although a work of fiction, the story is loosely based on Eugenia’s mother’s story. Due to her mother’s story telling, Eugenia was able to write this fascinating and magnificent novel that shows the reader what it was like to be a woman from 1915-1945 in Korea. The story follows Najin Han, daughter of a scholar and calligrapher who is an independent thinker and a woman who wishes to be educated. Najin’s father does not understand her, yet her mother does everything in her power to encourage her to live the life she dreams of. In order to avoid being married off at 15 her mother sends her to her aunt, who is connected to the high court. The lessons learnt and life Najin leads at this time is fascinating.
When reading a historical fiction, one expects to learn about the life and times of the character. I was truly transported to Korea and felt the struggles, heartache, relief, love and hope that the characters felt. Najin’s relationship with her mother moved me. Najin’s mother walked two and a half hours every day for one hundred days to bring her daughter clothing and food when detained. Her mother supported and loved her for the person she is. Najin in return is a respectful, loving, determined, intelligent, spiritually considerate daughter who her mother is proud of.
The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a lesson in history and religion too. I learnt of the history of confucianism and Christianity in Korea. As a Christian, this novel proved to be a spiritual lesson and way to connect closer to God. Najin is a a selfless Christian woman, although she struggles with her own faith. There are beautiful passages that I took note of in this story that are inspiring and touching. Najin’s mother is a wise woman who encourages her to ‘trust in God’s plan’ and to pray often.
When asked about how she decided to write The Calligrapher’s Daughter, Eugenia Kim states that she was ‘called to do this’; to share her family’s story and to connect further with her own mother’s story. This is a story I intend on reading again and may do so many times. The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a story written from the heart and touched my heart. I look forward to reading more of Eugenia’s books and was honoured to be a part of the bookclub meeting tonight, organised by the Korean Cultural Centre of Australia. Thank you for hosting such a fantastic book club event.