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The Calligrapher's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089127
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This debut novel, inspired by the life of the author's Korean mother, is a beautiful, deliberate and satisfying story spanning 30 years of Korean history. The tradition-bound aristocratic calligrapher Han refuses to name his daughter because she is born just as the Japanese occupy Korea early in the 20th century. When Han finds a husband for Najin (nicknamed after her mother's birthplace) at 14, her mother objects and instead sends her to the court of the doomed royal Yi family to learn refinement. Najin goes to college and becomes a teacher, proving herself not only as a scholar but as a patriot and humanitarian. She returns home to marry, but her new husband goes without her to study in America when she is denied a visa. As the Japanese systematically obliterate ancient Korean culture and the political climate worsens, so do Najin's fortunes. Her family is reduced to poverty, their home is seized and Najin is imprisoned as a spy while WWII escalates. The author writes at a languorous pace, choosing not to sully her elegant pages with raw brutality, but the key to the story is Korea's monumental suffering at the hands of the Japanese. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—In 1910 Gaesong, Korea, a female child is born to a learned scholar and calligrapher and his wife. The child, unnamed by her father, who is despondent over the recent annexing of Korea by Japan, names herself Najin. She proceeds to forge her own destiny, struggling to be an obedient daughter in the Confucian tradition of her father and the Christian faith embraced by her mother. To escape an arranged marriage, Najin goes to the emperor's palace to be a companion to the princess. With the collapse of the Joseon dynasty, she loses her position. She finds ways to further her studies in education and medicine and helps support her parents and younger, shiftless brother with work as a teacher and physician. When her father arranges another marriage, to a student minister, Najin agrees. Immediately she is left with his family to act as a servant while he studies in the U.S. Accused of spying after she returns to her own now-impoverished family, Najin spends months in prison. The novel, based on the life of the author's mother, comes to a satisfying conclusion with the surrender of Japan and the reunion of the couple. Descriptive imagery communicates Najin's philosophical musings, dreams, and appreciation of nature. Readers are left with greater understanding of the horrors of Japanese occupation and of the cultural, political, and religious upheaval that Korean families faced as they negotiated the modern world. Delicate black-and-white illustrations complement the prose. A compelling narrative about an intellectually curious and brave heroine.—Jackie Gropman, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library System, Fairfax, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Eugenia Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who came to America shortly after the Pacific War. An MFA graduate of Bennington College, she has published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER is her first novel. She teaches fiction and memoir at Fairfield Univeresity's low-residency MFA program.

Customer Reviews

I found I was pacing myself as I read the book because I didn't want it to end.
This beautifully written novel tells the story of Naijin Han, living in Korea during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century.
The story is compelling, the characters are well developed and the writing is beautiful!
Julie Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Sonia VINE VOICE on May 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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, however, strives for Najin to get an education and to make something of herself. Throughout the many years, wars, and tribulations, Najin's mother is there for her, supporting her and fighting for her, even standing up to her strict husband to save Najin's future. Najin, does indeed, make something of herself despite her nation's constant battles with Japan and being separated from her husband and even imprisoned. Readers also see things from Najin's father's point of view, as he comes of age in a society that is straying from his traditional beliefs and he comes to slowly accept that his daughter is not so "worthless" after all. Tho taking a minor role in the novel, a love story also thrives. Being married for only a day and separated for eleven years, reader's will find out if love is enough for Najin and her husband. The ending will leave reader's dabbing their eyes. Truly, a gem and absolute must read. Highly recommended.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Christine Emming on October 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By skrishna VINE VOICE on June 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Calligrapher's Daughter is an exceptionally written historical fiction novel. I can't imagine how much time and effort Eugenia Kim must have put into finding out as much as she could about the customs during the time period she writes about. Additionally, I have to say that I was a bit shocked at how little I knew about Korean history. I appreciated the insight that this book provided, as well as the historical note at the end of the novel which gave a brief summary of Korean history.

Eugenia Kim writes with a confidence usually reserved for seasoned writers. As a result, I was incredibly surprised to learn that The Calligrapher's Daughter was her first novel. The novel starts out a bit slow and has a somewhat languorous pace. In this case, it works well - just don't expect this to be a super quick read. One technique I did like was Kim's use of letters in order to skip over long periods of time. This way, the reader is able to learn what is occurring, but isn't bogged down in unnecessary storytelling.

Najin is a great character that I really enjoyed getting to know. I loved how strong she was, yet how flexible she had to be in order to deal with whatever was thrown at her. I thought the juxtaposition of tradition vs. modernism, and how determined Najin's mother was to ensure that she was educated was incredibly interesting. Najin is the embodiment of the change within Korea at that time; it was very well done. I also sympathized with her plight, especially when she was at the house of her in-laws. Kim really makes the reader emotionally involved in Najin's life.

The Calligrapher's Daughter is a wonderful historical fiction read that I highly recommend.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Julie Peterson on October 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER especially if you are a fan of historical fiction. The story is compelling, the characters are well developed and the writing is beautiful! I really, really enjoyed this book! When I started reading this novel, I wasn't familiar with the history of Korea at all, so I feel like I learned a great deal about that country and its inhabitants. I thought the author did a wonderful job of incorporating the story of Korea and all of its changes along with the story of Najin and her personal changes. It was extremely well done, and it touched me deeply!

One thing that really struck me about this novel was the character of Najin, the calligrapher's daughter. I fell in love with her! Ms. Kim developed Najin so well that I felt as if I knew her. Every time she experienced the ups and downs in her life (and there were many), my heart just went out to her. At times, life was extremely unfair to her; yet she always was able to keep perspective and keep moving ahead -- I honestly don't know how she did it. I finished this book a few days ago, and I will admit that Najin is still in my thoughts. She was an amazing character and one who has made a lasting impact on me.

Besides Najin, I absolutely adored her mother! She is also a very memorable character for me because of her inner strength. Najin's mother loved her so much that she was willing to stand up for her against her husband, even if it meant she had to incur his wrath. She devoted her entire life to making things better for her daughter, and she was continually generous with whatever she could provide to Najin. Her strength and resilience were so admirable -- I loved how she was able to use her faith and spirituality to get through difficult times.
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