Eugenia Kim on Historical Fiction

Eugenia Kim, author of THE CALLIGRAPHER’S DAUGHTER, a critically acclaimed novel set in Korea during its turbulent years as a Japanese colony, has a new post on the RED ROOM about historical fiction. It’s very much worth reading.

Here’s my favorite sentence:
Historical events play their part not as the instigator of plot, but as history actually does play out in lives–a footnote in a day, or an extended happening that lies in the background and becomes interwoven into the lives of the characters.

I agree with Eugenia wholeheartedly. We are all experiencing and living history, and what happens to the “common man” often sheds more light into historical events than the events that get written about and show up on the front pages of newspapers. The telling detail in the “background” can reveal even more about a certain period than the images on the foreground. The essay, entitled, “Two More Reasons to Read,” looks in particular at two much-buzzed about recent books: Tea Obreht’s TIGER WIFE, and Alexi Zentner’s TOUCH. I love how Eugenia imagines the young writers’ joint early apprenticeship, as well as her analysis of the happy coincidences of their works’ timing and even cover art. The post is worth reading, and so is Eugenia’s book, which was a runaway success.

Eugenia was one of the authors who blurbed my novel THIS BURNS MY HEART. I wrote to her out of the blue, and ended up reaching her at the worst possible time–when she was busy grading her students’ stories. But she did end up coming through, and sent my editor a lovely, lovely quote. It was very special to get a read from her, as our work has a lot of similarities: they are both historical novels set in Korea and centering around a strong, smart heroine. More importantly, our books are both inspired by our mothers’ lives. I haven’t met Eugenia in person yet, but next time I’m in D.C. (where she lives and is a creative writing professor), I have a feeling we’ll have lots to talk about.


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