Everything is churning on the Korean peninsula in Washington writer Eugenia Kim’s debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter.
In a dream, Najin--the willful young woman at the center of this story about self-discovery, spiritual awakening, and the fraying yet firm bonds of family--glimpses her ancestors' response to Korea's early-20th-century sociopolitical upheaval: “I saw how the wind blew their sighs of sorrow, the rain scattered their tears, and snow spread their icy dismay as Western thought, Japan and Bleak Future crossed our unwilling, hermit's threshold.”
Determined to uphold family tradition, Najin’s father betroths her to the son of a painter and fellow resistance worker. Outraged, Najin’s mother sends her to live with family in the royal city of Seoul. The move opens both professional opportunities for Najin and a rift between father and daughter that two decades can only begin to mend.
Employing a variety of narrators, Kim’s writing is most arresting tethered to the tongue of Najin, a character modeled loosely on the author’s mother, who emigrated to the US with her husband in 1948.
It’s the connection between Najin and her mother that gives this sprawling, bouyant tale its emotional anchor.
[caption] Eugenia Kim drew on her Korean heritage for her first novel.