Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Exercise in Family: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Kim, Eugenia. The Calligrapher's Daughter. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Eugenia Kim's novel The Calligrapher's Daughter was not what I expected. Following the titular footsteps of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Heretic's Daughter, andThe Hangman's Daughter (of which three the first is my favourite), Kim's novel offers a fresh perspective on the stereotypical unnamed female protagonist. In the first place, The Calligrapher's Daughter is set in Korea, but a Korea not very far removed from modern life. In the second place, Kim manages, in her novel, to show without judging, and to inspire contemplation without becoming heavy-handed in her portrayal of a male-dominated society and one woman, in particular, living and growing within those constraints.

In some ways, The Calligrapher's Daughter is a coming-of-age novel: the book begins when its protagonist is a very young girl and lingers at great length over the years in which she develops into a mature young woman. Yet in Kim's novel, the transition from childhood into adulthood never truly ends: in the thirty years that pass between the first and last chapters, there is no single turning point, or definitive moment of maturity. Instead, the book describes the ebb and flow of the human experience in a way that allows readers to experience and identify with the constant, endless development that is a life. While slow in spots, this is very much a book that can be lingered upon and enjoyed, and I would heartily recommend it to students of life and lovers of humanity.

Also, this was my favourite February read.

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