The Calligrapher's Daughter-Eugenia Kim
nationality: USA (of color)
"In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny, though her country—newly occupied by Japan—is crumbling, and her family, led by her stern father, is facing difficulties that seem insurmountable. Narrowly escaping an arranged marriage, Najin takes up a new role as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end. Najin pursues a coveted education and is surprised to find love. After one day of marriage a denied passport separates her from her new husband, who continues alone to America. As a decade passes and the world descends into war, Najin loses touch with her husband."
Talk about setting the scene. I really liked this book because of the way it followed the history of the time. I mean, the historical fiction of this book was great. There's a great sense of place-the setting, rebellion was believable. South Korea 1915-1945 was undergoing dramatic drastic change with the Japanese invasion. The Japanese tried to force Korea into being Japanese with no memory of Korea. When WWII turned, Japan truly exploited Korea for all its resources for the war effort. And of course you know that even when the Japanese leave, the Korean Wars of the 1950s are about to erupt. Truly a particularly taunt and unstable period to be Korean and which gives this story a very dramatic background. Kim uses particularly painterly prose to paint her pictures.
So Najin is born to a very traditional father who resists the Japanese efforts to ruin his culture. He is a calligrapher and thus has strong ties to the traditional culture. Her mother however is Christian and that informs the moral environment of the family. She, however, carves out her own life lived to her own ideas about independence. She escapes an early marriage, lives with the last princess, becomes a teacher, and when she marries, defies tradition. Pretty much just a strong female heroine since this is the story of Najin's character development. The best thing is that she's not the only complex character. All the characters are well rounded and there are few demons in this story.
It's all gently told with a pacing that mimics the ebb and flow of history itself. Full of struggles and triumphs with a satisfying ending.