5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A vivid, compelling story with unforgettable characters,
This review is from: The Calligrapher's Daughter: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I'll admit to having doubts about this book as I first opened it. But I quickly became engrossed in this beautifully written and gripping story of life during times of turmoil. Each evening, I found myself saying, "just let me look at the first page of the next chapter before going to bed," and then reading way past bed time.
Let me repeat that this book is beautifully written. Every line has the ring of truth and seems so vivid and instant - seldom have I felt so much as if the events were happening as I read them. This is a remarkable skill on the part of the author, who provides true insight into the setting. I can feel how she poured her heart and soul into this book.
The story follows the life of a young Korean woman, based on the author's mother, from her childhood in a privileged and traditional family. (Don't be put off if you don't know anything about Korea - you will not be confused or lost.) She was born at the time that Korea became the unwilling colony of the aggressive and cruel Japanese empire. The intimate story of her family within the wider context of foreign occupation and war makes compelling reading.
Her proud and patriotic father will forever associate her birth with that humiliation and the ensuing changes in the family's welfare and stability. Her mother's resilience, steadfastness and faith make her one of the most admirable characters in literature. The mother is usually totally and "appropriately" subservient to her husband, but she will not let her remarkably intelligent, energetic and independent young daughter be lost to the oblivion of an arranged marriage at the age of 14.
The daughter struggles to combine the best of all worlds. She desperately wants to succeed in non-traditional ways - intellectually and personally, by attending college and becoming a doctor, but when adversity strikes, she looks to the lessons learned from her mother and family, their traditional Korean views and their Christian faith. (There is a major theme of Christian faith in this book, and although I do not personally like to read about religion, I did not find it off-putting.) She is a fascinating character, and her growth as a person, and particularly a woman, is a captivating story. I was particularly intrigued by her trying to find her way with one foot in the traditional world, where she is expected to be silent and servile, and one foot in the changing world, where she has to deal with new roles and new demands. I was amused by how shocked she was at the thought of a man carrying water buckets or picnic bundles, those being women's work.
I don't want to say too much about the plot and how their lives change again and again through the increasingly harsh rule of the Japanese and the outbreak of World War II - you should discover this for yourself by letting the story develop as you read.
Let me say that you will never think of Korea in the same way as you have in the past (if you ever did) and you will want to learn more, especially from this author. I was especially intrigued by her heartbreaking depiction of the royal family - there is book or two waiting there, I hope.