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

Review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

“Why did it feel so much safer to be wanted or needed than to be the one who wanted or needed?

I was terrified of being rejected. I didn’t want to be a loser. That was the word that came into my head whenever I ran the risk of caring about someone: loser. I couldn’t remember my mother ever saying it to me. It was something I must have come up with all by myself.”

Milk Fed – Published by Scribner, February 2nd, 2021

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Sharp prose, brilliant characterization, very very awkward.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This hurts a bit. I was so very sure I would love this (The Pisces is one of my all-time favourite books and I had been anticipating Broder’s second novel for what felt like ages) and while Broder’s writing is as sharp as ever and there is much to love, ultimately this did not always work for me. Where Lucy (the main character in The Pisces) is deeply unpleasant and unhappy but so witty and sharp that I could not help but root for her, here the main character, Rachel, is also prickly but before anything else deeply, deeply unhappy. She looks for acceptance in all the wrong places, trying to be somebody she is not in the hopes of finally finding somebody who unconditionally (or even conditionally) loves her.

For me, Broder’s biggest strength lies in drawing these women that feel real, with internal voices that are consistent and believable. Rachel feels like a complete person – and I felt for her. Her every moment is taken over by her eating disorder, her calorie counting, and her obsessive tendencies – and her aforementioned need to be loved by somebody. Her inner monologue is claustrophobic to the extreme, especially in the very first chapter when she outlines her daily routine. Rachel is without a plan for her life, except to stay as thin as humanly possible by any means necessary, and when she latches on to Miriam, an orthodox Jewish woman who works in the frozen joghurt shop Rachel frequents, the crush quickly becomes unhealthy and obsessive as well. The book was hard on my second hand embarassment and took me a lot longer to finish than it might have otherwise taken me.

All these are not objective criticisms of this book but rather reasons why I did not always enjoy my time with it. Ultimately, this is good and it seems unfair to measure any book against Broder’s debut which kickstarted my love affair with books about disaster women, but I could not help doing so and thus couldn’t love it the way I wanted to love it.

Content warnings: disordered eating, calorie counting, vomit, binge eating, homophobia, self harm, addiction, suicidal ideation, parental abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

34467031My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Date read: 10 September 2017

Published by Scribner, October 2017

Review: Disappointing, rambling, disjointed.

Find it on Goodreads.

Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America, and the world.

That was disappointing. I adored A Visit from the Goon Squad; it was one of my favourite books of last year, so you can imagine how beyond excited I was to read this book – I took my sweet time starting it to be able to read it at the just the right moment, I was so sure I would love this. But I didn’t. I enjoyed the first chapter and was ok with the ones following – until around page 150 – when I realized that I have no idea what the point is, what the book is about, what I am supposed to feel. The book is both too narrow and too broad and as a result left me feeling slightly bemused and more than a little disappointed.

The book tells three wildly differing stories: Anna’s story and her struggle to find her own place in a world made for men; her father’s story and his problems with the mob; and Dexter Styles’ story, a nightclub owner with ties to the mob and to high society. These stories are intertwined and related but seem to be set in completely different genres. While I enjoyed Anna and her interactions with her sister and the men she works with when she becomes the first women diver at New York’s harbour, I thought the whole gangster story line was both superfluous and infuriating. If it had been cut, the book would have been 250 pages shorter and much better for it.

The jumps in time (which is something I often enjoy) underscored the rambling feeling of this book; they made it near impossible for me to care about what was happening because important events were glossed over or told in an aside. People would disappear, just to reappear in time for them to be needed for plot related reasons; some things made no sense for the characters involved; some plot twists came out of the left field and were left unexplained.

It seems like a book with very many different ideas and many different themes to explore that never manages to become a cohesive whole.

First sentence: “They had driven all the way to Mr. Style’s house before Anna realized that her father was nervous.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest review.