Cover of the book 'The Calligrapher's Daughter' by Eugenia Kim

Korea ruled by Japan

For centuries, Korea is a proud kingdom with a blooming tradition in science and literature. It has a language and alphabet of its own, boasts great inventions such as the printing press and several astronomic instruments. Its culture is a mix between Chinese Confucianism and Christianity, and its society pays careful attention to etiquette and social status.

From 1875 onwards, Japan renews its attempts at subjugating this country, and in 1910 Korea is forced to sign an agreement that factually equals annexation. Korea becomes no more than a Japanese colony.

In the same year, Najin Han is born. She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who earns a living as a calligrapher – a writer of artful texts. Her father is attached to traditions and resists any innovation that Japan wants to implement.

Najin is smart and eager to learn. She is at the top of her class and wants to go on to higher education. Trying to prevent this, her father arranges a marriage for her when she is fourteen years old. This is against Japanese law, but it adheres to an age-old tradition. For the first time in her life, her mother defies her husband and in utmost secrecy arranges a position at the royal court for her daughter.

Unfortunately, this does not last long: the court is dismantled after the demise of the king. The Japanese oppression gets worse by the year. Speaking Korean is prohibited, all classes are given in Japanese and mainly by Japanese teachers, Korean people are pressured into adopting a Japanese name. They are fined for even the smallest offence, they are disowned and their land is reassigned to the Japanese. Any sign of protest is severely punished by corporal or capital punishment, or exile.

Najin’s parents soon end up in the gutter; they are driven from their home and land and are pining away in Seoul. In this deprived situation, their traditions can no longer be upheld very strictly and Najib is given the chance to learn and work.

Only in 1945, when Japan capitulates, the terror ends.

Eugenia Kim’s debut novel 'The Calligrapher's Daughter' is based on her mother’s experiences. It is a gorgeous novel about a young woman who wants to grow in an oppressive world full of terror and war.



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