Kim, Eugenia. The Calligrapher’s Daughter. Holt. Aug. 2009. c.400p. ISBN 978-0-8050-8912-7. $26. F
Kim’s debut is the first-person chronicle of Najin, a young Korean woman growing up during Japan’s 30-year occupation of Korea. In 1915, when the story opens, Najin is only a child, though clearly she already resists cultural and familial traditions that would confine her. Najin’s father, a proud man whose calligraphy work has earned the royal family’s admiration, strives to force Najin into more traditional roles for women. Surprisingly, it is Najin’s mother, herself an obedient wife, who assists her daughter along her path to completing her education, sending Najin to serve in the king’s court against her husband’s wishes. Najin’s struggle to maintain traditions while a future with diverse possibilities beckons is the same story that unfolds for her country. The situation only worsens when World War II starts and Japanese oppression intensifies.
VERDICT: Kim has excelled at portraying Najin as a spirited yet loyal daughter and wife while exposing a tragic time during Korea’s sustained history as a nation. [This was a pick at BookExpo 2009’s Librarians’ Book Shout and Share program.—Ed.]