Reviews

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul lives Kim Jiyoung. A thirtysomething-year-old “millennial everywoman,” she has recently left her white-collar desk job—in order to care for her newborn daughter full-time—as so many Korean women are expected to do. But she quickly begins to exhibit strange symptoms that alarm her husband, parents, and in-laws: Jiyoung impersonates the voices of other women—alive and even dead, both known and unknown to her. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her discomfited husband sends her to a male psychiatrist.

In a chilling, eerily truncated third-person voice, Jiyoung’s entire life is recounted to the psychiatrist—a narrative infused with disparate elements of frustration, perseverance, and submission. Born in 1982 and given the most common name for Korean baby girls, Jiyoung quickly becomes the unfavored sister to her princeling little brother. Always, her behavior is policed by the male figures around her—from the elementary school teachers who enforce strict uniforms for girls, to the coworkers who install a hidden camera in the women’s restroom and post their photos online. In her father’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s fault that men harass her late at night; in her husband’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s duty to forsake her career to take care of him and their child—to put them first.

Jiyoung’s painfully common life is juxtaposed against a backdrop of an advancing Korea, as it abandons “family planning” birth control policies and passes new legislation against gender discrimination. But can her doctor flawlessly, completely cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?

I bought this book quite some time ago as I’d heard so many good things about it. I had been told that it would annoy me, so I put off reading it. Who wants to be annoyed by a book? However curiosity got the best of me and I did read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was such a quick read, I finished it over one afternoon.

I completely understand why my friends thought that this book would annoy me. This book was jam packed full of unfairness, sexism, and misogyny. At the same time, this book was based on and inspired by real life and experiences. So while I was annoyed by this, it wasn’t the book that annoyed me. Society and the expectations annoyed me.

This book covered the life of Kim Jiyoung who was a somewhat typical character. I viewed her as a sort of ‘every woman’, if that makes sense? As a reader, I didn’t feel like I really got to know a lot about Kim Jiyoung but I got to experience what they went through as a woman in South Korea. Her experiences could be relatable to so many!

I am a Scottish woman and have lived my whole life in Scotland, so I can’t vouch for the experiences of women in South Korea. However, the author carried out so much research, this was so much more than an opinion piece. The author included their sources and this just increased…perhaps not enjoyment but it certainly was appreciated. I don’t usually enjoy books about unfairness based on gender but I did enjoy this book. I suspect that this may be due to the book almost toeing the line between fact and fiction.

My heart broke at multiple points during this book. Kim Jiyoung was so smart and hardworking and had achieved so much with their academic life…yet they were expected to exist as solely a wife and mother. This would be fine if that was what she wanted from life but she didn’t. She was just expected to accept her fate.

I really enjoyed the way that the women in this book were united and supportive of each other. I liked that they watched out for each other while being terrified of the consequences as they would be viewed as being in the wrong despite clearly being victimised.

I very much appreciated this book as it was such an eye opening read. This book really made me think! I don’t know if I liked it as it wasn’t really a book that was intended as entertainment but it was thought provoking and really made me feel. This book has stuck with me and I do keep thinking about this. I do recommend reading this but be prepared to feel angry!

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