Sunday, August 23, 2009

49. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER - Eugenia Kim


Writing this review makes me heartsick because it is not often that I read a novel where I can see how it could have been a masterpiece. Perhaps I've been dipping into my Ciroq stores a bit more, or perhaps this book was marketed to the wrong audience. Either way, this coulda-shoulda been an amazing novel about Korean history that turned, instead, into a novel about Christ and the love of Jesus.

Stop. Right. There.

First, we have a novel/book and it is the Bible. There are also several other novels about God, Christianity, and the Ten Commandments. There is an entire romance line for Christian women. I have read the Bible, the Koran, and other religious texts, including numerous novels that attempt to recreate moments from Biblical history. I am not going to suffer through a ton of hate-posts. Period.

But, if a book is marketed and released as a historical novel spanning the time when Japan occupied Korea in a series of battles and spars, then I would like to read about it. A portion of the book shows the young heroine, Najin (based on the author's mother) in the palace with one of the princesses before the last emperor of Korea is murdered. That is historical fiction.

However, there are few pages without a link to Christianity. While I understand that Korea was one of the few Eastern countries open to the idea of a new religion, during this time it was still considered new and strange, and households often used a mixture of Christianity and Confucian proverbs, casting "devils" out using both religions. If this had been relayed more true to history, the religious aspect would not have been an issue for me.

With advanced reviews, I seem to be in the minority, but after page 286, I winced while reading. She coulda been a contendah. Amen.

1.0 out of 5.0 Godfathers.

7 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I am presently reading a novel and i don't even know how to place it. However, i cannot abandon it. I like your bluntness with this. thanks

Nicola said...

See, this is why I don't like the new common trend of only publishing positive reviews.

Your obvious dislike of the book acctually made me quite interested in it (which I'd never heard of before) and made me do some further investigating on it. Now it's on my must read list.

Thanks for giving an honest opinion. What turns off one person may turn on another or vice versa.

Kristin Dodge said...

I've had that same experience, Nicola - loved what others have hated. Ah, well.

I should have mentioned that it was personally marketed to me as a reviewer of historical fiction. And you can always expect honesty from me - it is an annoying, yet useful habit.

moonrat said...

oh nooooo. i was really looking forward to this book--nearly bought it in hardcover. just barely put it down.

there was another equally hyped book earlier this year that filled me with the kind of disappointment you express. deep, deep. sigh.

hmm. i almost want to try to read the book to see if i agree with you.

Kristin Dodge said...

I would love to hear other readers' opinions of this book (non-paid reviewers' opinions, that is). Email me your address and I will send you a free book, Moonrat. ;-)

Violette Severin said...

I loved this book and am preparing to write the review. I didn't even think that it might be Christian fiction. I took the Christian verbage to be no different than the Hindu and Muslim verbage I read in novels with Hindu or Muslim protagonists. I don't consider those books to be Hindu books or Muslim books but novels about characters from the Mideast. Their religious backgrounds are incidental to the storyline. I agree with you that if you don't like a book you should say so. What's the point of reviewing a book if the review can only be positive? It's not really a review then.

Martha Vickery said...

I can't agree with the reviewer on her view that Christianity derails the story or should be described as less important in Korean society.

Firstly, I think that the presence of the missionaries was key, in that they introduced the western idea that women could contribute to society as independent and educated people.

Secondly, as someone who knows a little about Korean modern history, I feel that the church was not as new or untested as the reviewer suggests. Christian ideas were more than 100 years old at the time the book takes place, and at that particular location, in the city of Kaesong, near Pyongyang, there would have been a lot of Christians because that's the area where Christianity took root in Asia. Pyongyang was once called "the Jerusalem of Asia." So, in a historical sense, I think the writer's assumptions are believable.

Anyways, thanks for letting me contribute to your discussion.