Book Review: Cho Nam-Joo // Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is book is truly powerful. The title, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 reads as if the book was a memoir. Although it is a fictional novel, the scenes that occur throughout are the reality for South Korean women — and many women across the globe.

The novel follows Kim Jiyoung, starting at present-day, hinting at the idea she may have gone mad. The narrative then sucks you back to when she was born. First to her mother who failed to have a boy until her third attempt, Kim Jiyoung being the second girl. The reader follows Kim Jiyoung throughout her years at school, university and her first job. Then she finds there is pressure upon her to marry and have a child. Children and work are not compatible and Kim Jiyoung loses almost everything she ever had control of. The only thing Kim Jiyoung can control is what women she is, she starts adopting the lives of different women she has known. Kim Jiyoung is not mad, she is just deprived of freedom and power.

The reader doesn’t know what happens to Kim Jiyoung. The novel ends from the perspective of her psychiatrist — a misogynistic and very narrow perspective. The psychiatrist has a wife who is just like Kim Jiyoung. Instead of adopting different personas, she does incredibly easy math problems. The desperation of these women is harrowing.

I mentioned before that this novel reads like a memoir. Nam-Joo is incredibly talented. She skilfully embeds paragraphs of statistics throughout the novel related to the injustices women face. What you would think is an awkward and clumsy style is profoundly powerful and eye-opening. You already know the statistics in the abstract, but reading them only fuels more frustration.

One statistic that hit me was after following Kim Jiyoung send her child to daycare, Nam-Joo reveals how much extra time she has to herself. Just ten minutes! Taking her child to and from daycare takes time. Kim Jiyoung still has to do the cleaning, laundry etc — which she prefers without the child there. But after that she only has time to sit for ten minutes — what leisurely activity can you do in ten minutes?

There are so many infuriating events in the novel. And all these infuriating events happen in real life. At school, there is a flasher who flashes the girls whilst they are in class. Does the flasher get punished? No! The girls sat close to the window who have no choice but to witness it get punished for weeks!

I could describe over twenty different sexist events Kim Jiyoung experiences in the novel. You might think that Nam-Joo is trying to load all the sexist experiences a woman can face on one character but she is just depicting reality. It is not that Kim Jiyoung is unlucky. It is that Kim Jiyoung and every reader of the novel lives in a misogynistic world. Every reader can relate to a character — either you are Kim Jiyoung or a male oppressor. Because: “Even the usually reasonable, sane ones verbally degrade women — even the women they have feelings for.”

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a short novel. The language is accessible and the plot is consistent. It is a must-read.


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