A debut novel set in contemporary Seoul, about four young women making their way in a world defined by impossible standards of beauty, after-hours room salons catering to wealthy men, ruthless social hierarchies, and K-pop mania.
Cha’s background as a former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul serves her well as she vibrantly brings the city and country to life. And her excellent depiction of how difficult it is for young South Koreans to get ahead will likely resonate with American millennials and members of Gen-Z for whom home ownership, professional advancement, and a debt-free adulthood seems elusive, especially now. There are, however, a few instances when the novel attempts to incorporate one too many familiar Korean headlines (K-pop obsession, the country’s low birth rate); and some plotlines feel a bit underwhelming once finally realized. Thankfully, these are minor exceptions in an otherwise powerful and provocative rendering of contemporary South Korean society, one that might be considered bleak if not for the women themselves, who occasionally surprise with their compassion and bravery.
If you’re on a post-Parasite hunt for more South Korean culture, Frances Cha’s fascinating debut novel is just the ticket ... While the title seems to refer to these literal coveted faces, Cha’s portrait of her characters’ lives and connections is anything but superficial. There’s so much to delve into...If some plot lines are left unresolved, Cha’s point is not to provide fairy tale endings but to suggest that nothing is more essential and life-affirming than the connections between women.
Frances Cha’s debut is filled with biting commentary about the position in which women find themselves in modern South Korea. With such an onus on appearance and social rank, women’s lives come to be dominated by envy, and our main characters are no exception. Each one of them, through their narratives, seems suspended in space, desperately grabbing out for something unreachable, believing that getting a hold on that whatever is missing will fill the hole inside of them. Ms. Cha’s debut has the potential to provide a window into South Korean culture for the uninitiated, highlighting its richness as well as its problems. The book, for all its sharp wit and acerbic asides, is breezily and delightfully readable, perfect for a one-sitting binge. Wanting only for more differentiation between the character voices and a separate perspective of the group’s keystone friend, Sujin, Frances Cha has given us a novel to write home about.