Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. She is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. A female preyed upon by male teachers at school. A daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. A good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. A model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. A wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.

Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. She ]is depressed. She is mad. She is her own woman. Kim Jiyoung is every woman.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the life story of one young woman born at the end of the twentieth century raises questions about endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that are relevant to us all..

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Depressing, infuriating, relevant, disappointing prose.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t have all that much to say about this book. I find its impact more interesting than the book itself: this is one of the most successful Korean books of the last decade and reading it became a political statement. The book itself is an unflinching depiction of everyday sexism, many of the scenes will be familiar to most women, and very successful at that. It was just that for me I found the prose distinctly underwhelming. The author chose a matter-of-fact kind of language that, while effective, did not align with my personal taste.

My favourite part was the framing device which I thought was really clever and the final chapter really packed a punch in a way the rest of the book didn’t for me. The first and the last chapter sound like a fairly different book while the middle felt like an endless parade of sexism without much story around it. While this might very well be true to life (and rumours are, the book is at least in part biographical), I did not always enjoy my time with the book.

Ultimately, I think this was let down by its comparison to The Vegetarian which is a way more literary book as opposed to this more matter-of-fact novel and as such something that worked a lot better for my personal taste than this one did. As a companion piece it works well though because it illustrates the points The Vegetarian makes in a more straight-forward manner.

Content warnings: depiction of sexism, bullying

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

Published by Scribner, March 1st 2020

4 thoughts on “Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

  1. I am sorry that this book didn’t deliver. I have watched the movie and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Maybe “enjoyed” is not the right word, because it is pretty grim and depressing (even if there is love and hope and a lot of understanding, at least from the husband… And I am not saying that this is enough, but that is there and it was good) but it moved me, and it made me think. But… But I don’t know if the book would be the right one for me. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this for book group and was disappointed by the under-use of the framing device. It made up such a small portion of the whole book, and I really wanted to hear more about Kim Jiyoung speaking in other women’s voices!

    Liked by 1 person

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