Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-Joo

translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang
Scriber 2020
A book review by Danny Yee © 2021
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 begins with the eponymous protagonist taking on the speech and mannerisms first of her mother and then of a college friend, in what seems almost like possession, to the distress of her husband and his family. She is then referred to a psychiatrist, whose perspective provides the conclusion to the novel. But the promise of this framing story is not sustained. It has little connection to the bulk of the novel, which is a fairly prosaic account of Jiyoung's life and an unsubtle feminist take on the gendered social mores of modern South Korea.

As a child, her brother is always prioritised over her and her sister. She faces discrimination by employers, both in hiring and in assignments, as well as harassment in public and at work. She is the one who ends up giving up her job to look after children, and is then stigmatised as a stay-at-home mother. And so forth. Much of this is more reporting than story, and some of it even comes with footnotes. ("According to reports, more than half of the women who quit their jobs are unable to find new work for more than five years. Even if they do manage to find new work, it is quite common for them to end up with jobs that are more menial than their previous employment.")

There's nothing unexpected in any of this, but for the foreign reader it is interesting to see how familiar themes play out in a Korean setting. And the story is engaging and accessible — my eight year old enjoyed it. For a more sophisticated probing of the lives of women in Korea, however, I'd recommend the short story anthology The Future of Silence: Fiction by Korean Women.

July 2021

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%T Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
%A Nam-Joo, Cho
%M Korean
%F Chang, Jamie
%I Scriber
%D 2020 [2016]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781471184307
%P 163pp