I picked up a great new book the other day–The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim.
The novel follows the story of the author’s mother, the daughter of a calligrapher during the early 20th century in Korea during the trying Japanese occupation.
It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story of Najin, a girl who was never named by her father because she was born just after Japan took control of Korea. A girl with a spirit like a “monsoon wind,” her mother risks everything for her to have an education–almost unheard of in early 20th century Korea.
The headstrong and independent Najin, who took the name of her mother’s home town, eventually falls in love but is separated from her husband as he starts a coveted education in America.
I’m not finished with the novel yet, but it’s so interesting to read, especially if you have been introduced to Korean culture. In this time period, traditionalism is much more prevalant, which is helping me understand the conservativeness and clinging to traditional beliefs still seen today.
One of my favorite passages in the book addresses the differential treatment of men and women in traditional Korean society. Najin’s mother is explaining the physical, emotional, and real differences between men and women when Najin is a little girl.
“Men need water to live, but they cannot move as it does. Women are like the water that flows, feeds and travels over and under man’s two feet stuck solidly in the earth. We are liquid. It is from us that he emerges, drinks and grows. And so,” said Mother, brushing aside my hair sprouting wildly from restless braids and bronze combs, “when your father seems gruff, I want you to remember this. Women are especially blessed in a way that men can never grasp. Keep God’s love in your heart and remember this always.”
“Yes, Umma-nim.” I clasped my hands tightly together in my lap, to prevent the secret of water from leaking between my fingers.