Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo: A review

I have to admit up front that I read this book in a state of fury. It's easy to see why it caused such a stir in South Korea when it was published there in 2016. No doubt it struck a chord with many Korean women, probably every one who read it and it soon became a best-seller, selling more than a million copies. The reviewer in The New York Times compared its effect there to Uncle Tom's Cabin in this country. It sparked a feminist wave in South Korea and I can certainly understand why.

The book has now been translated into 18 different languages and is an international best-seller. And now we have the English version.

The book tells the story of a young woman who suffers from dissociative episodes and is driven to psychosis because of the stresses of her life. She is the middle child of her parents. She has an older sister and the only reason they had another child was because they were trying for a son. They failed. After her birth, her mother got pregnant again and learned that it would be a girl. That idea was anathema to her husband and she made the difficult decision to have an abortion. She mourned the loss of that child with no one to comfort her except the gynecologist. After some time, she got pregnant again, this time with a boy. The son was given the best of everything by the parents. Their daughters represented nothing but failure to them.

The grown-up Jiyoung gets a job at a marketing agency, but her work life is constantly marked by the misogyny of her co-workers (mostly men) and her bosses. Even when she marries and quits her job and has a son, she feels the overwhelming pressure from her society to be the perfect wife and mother. Her husband tries to help, but he seems incapable of actually giving her the support she needs. And her dissociative episodes become more frequent and severe.

The form that the book takes is interesting and makes it seem more real, even though the book is fiction. (I did read somewhere though that the germ of the story was taken from the author's own experiences.) There are copious footnotes, unusual in a work of fiction, that refer to studies that confirm the degree to which Jiyoung's experiences are the experiences of the Korean Everywoman. In spite of South Korea's economic prosperity and technological advances, gender equality does not exist there and even today, male children are preferred and abortions of female fetuses still occur for the purpose of gender selection. This has left South Korea with a serious imbalance in the sex ratio, with significantly more male children than female children born and all the problems that that imbalance implies when those grown-up children look for mates.

The book, in fact, read almost like a scientific study and near the end, we learn the reason for that; it is actually written as a case history of Jiyoung narrated by her male psychiatrist. It was a very effective way of presenting this cogent and disturbing story.

As a side note, the usual internet trolls have spread their vitriol over the book and those who have read and praised it. Misogyny is still alive and flourishing in social media.

This is a very powerful book and, although the story is specific to South Korea, I think women everywhere will find a lot to identify with here, including the postpartum depression that is perhaps the final straw that breaks Jiyoung. I hope that the book will find an audience in this country as it has everywhere else that it has been published and that it will inspire women to work even harder to make gender equality a reality in our society.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 




Comments

  1. Sounds like a powerful read, Dorothy, and a book that needed to be written.

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  2. Thank you for the introduction. "Misogyny is still alive and flourishing in social media." Too true.

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    1. I believe you would find this book an interesting - and infuriating - read.

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  3. I'm glad this novel sent waves thru South Korea ... and sold a million copies. I plan to get to it this year. I'm bummed to hear trolls have been after this book & author. Gezus. blech.

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    1. The misogynistic trolls seem ever vigilant to identify and pounce on anything that they perceive as being in any way critical of the paternalistic culture that pervades so many societies. Personally, I think they just have too much time on their hands.

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  4. You have a wonderful blog! The topics you write about are very close to me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for following, Nastya. I'll definitely be checking out your blog.

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  5. That's quite a cover! Cheers

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