Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo, translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang
Published by Anansi International, 2020 (first published in 2016)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In this very readable little novel, Cho Nam-Joo lays bare the systematic misogyny levied at Korean women throughout each stage of their lives. Our titular protagonist is presented very much as an everywoman. She has the most common name for girls in Korea; her parents are referred to throughout as ‘the mother’ and ‘the father’; any sense of individuality or autonomy are stripped away from her; and, in the excellent cover design, her face has even been obscured. All of this combines to insinuate that Jiyoung and her experiences are not unique. On the contrary, the prejudice she faces at every turn, and the cumulative ripple effect it has on her mental wellbeing, are applicable to all women of her generation.
I admire the author’s boldness in tackling her desired themes. She has a point to make about women’s roles within Korean society, and she’s going to make, leaving no room for misunderstanding. That said, it does result in many moments that feel way too on the nose for me, personally. The book walks us through the various stages of Jiyoung’s life, highlighting the injustices she must weather throughout each. The author does an excellent job of showing us these issues and how normalised they have become, making it feel redundant and frustrating that in every instance, she summarises each point by having a character eloquently articulate the issues that have just been encountered by Jiyoung, and how or why things should be fairer for women. There are even instances when the book starts reeling off survey stats or findings from reports that back up the points being made re: the gender pay gap, etc. When you’re exploring your themes effectively, there really is no need to ‘tell’ us what your book is saying in this clumsy manner.
The prose itself is very matter-of-fact, but this sense of emotional detachment works given the narrative and its framing (her life story is being relayed to us through the eyes of a male psychiatrist, which is in itself another clever nod to women having their voices silenced and their agency taken). I also like the way the author shows that social progress and improvements in policy aren’t necessarily as effective in reducing inequality as one would think, so ingrained are our existing prejudices and societal roles.
Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read. I can’t say if offers anything particularly revelatory or memorable within the sphere of feminist fiction, but I certainly found myself nodding along and feeling appropriately angry on Jiyoung’s behalf.
You can pick up a copy of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 from Book Depository by clicking here.