Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top 60 Novels 2000-2009 Countdown, No. 36

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

I finished reading this just a few weeks ago, so I was reluctant to include it on the list. But the more I think about the book, the more I believe it should be included. Kim's novel fictionalizes her mother's experiences growing up in the rapidly changing culture of Korea before World War II, when the twin forces of modernization and the Japanese occupation were disrupting tradition. Kim's main character experiences the broadening of opportunities for women -- she even gets to go to university -- against the opposition of her father. But her father is also a hero in the struggle against the Japanese, which is entwined both with adherence to Korean tradition and the influence of Christian missionaries. Faith plays a big part in this book, particularly the Christian faith of many of the characters. The main character feels as if she has little Christian faith, she comes to have faith in herself. Through serendipity she encounters the end of the Korean royal court, the protests against the Japanese, her marriage and the ending of a prolonged separation from her husband. This story is fascinating, even if Kim goes into a little too much detail here and there, particularly when describing the court. 

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