Sunday, August 8, 2010

RAview: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter is historical fiction that feels epic even though it only follows one woman's life over 30 years.

I think a lot of this book's appeal lies in its setting, detail, and story line--specifically Korea from 1915 to 1945. Compared to Japan and China, this is a little-evoked history in fiction, and many readers probably won't be familiar with the political conflict and economic hardships that troubled the country. My mom especially liked this book because the history was not too far before her childhood and she wasn't familiar with it at all.

Kim also details cultural mores in a way that feels very organic (rather than, look! an foreign culture! how quaint!, which does happen in some fiction set in the Eastern world). The food, the clothing, the customs. There are details of calligraphy, herbal remedies (the main character studies to be an obstetrician), wartime government control and civilian confusion.

It is leisurely paced and elegantly written. It seems to encourage more thinking than feeling (a head book rather than a heart book, if that makes any more sense to anyone). But the tone is sad, sometimes hopeful, love-ful. The main character is spirited and independent but very concerned with her faith and family obligations. There's a touching mother-daughter relationship.

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