I've been trying to read more fiction lately and so, at the library two days ago, checked out "The Calligrapher's Daughter." The title had caught my eye here on Red Room because my father did calligraphy until diabetic neuropathy forced him to give it up, making me a calligrapher's daughter, so when I saw the book in the library, I picked it right up.
The book was wonderful, so much so that I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it--I didn't want to wait until the next morning to find out how it ended. The beginning of the book felt just a little slow and stilted, but I stayed with it and was wonderfully rewarded. Kim's writing picked up speed as her story developed and I was caught up in the life of her heroine before I knew it. Reading the book made me feel like I was in Korea, trying to learn rules that were unspoken and all the more powerful because of that silence. The childhood confusion I remembered from my NorCal life was replaced by Najin Han's confusion, confusion that while Korean in specifics was universal in reality--how do our societies work, who are our parents to us, who are our parents to each other, and most puzzling of all, how and where and why do we fit in that picture and how far can we push things?
Along with the fun of growing and maturing with Najin, I learned a lot of Korean history. I knew very little about that prior to reading the book; all I knew was a bit about the Korean war (and that only because my father served in it), and that the Japanese did not treat the Koreans well (something I saw firsthand when shopping in Japan with a Korean-American shipmate while in the Navy). I especially had no idea how much of the past century Korea spent suffering through one conflict/occupation/war after another. This is my favorite way to learn history, effortlessly, as it's woven in and out and through a wonderful story.
But darn it all, I think "The Calligrapher's Daughter" is Kim's first book. Now I have to wait until she writes another one.