... strikes a deep chord with me, and not only because I’m female. Every woman who reads this strange, extraordinary, and infuriating document (and every woman should read it) will find glimpses of her own life ... While the story is recognizable to women the world over, it is a damning portrait of South Korean society in particular. ... The narrative is framed as a psychiatric case study, and translator Jamie Chang captures the dry, clinical tone of a therapist’s report that painstakingly records the abuse endured by the patient ... By presenting the narrative as a study, complete with footnoted statistics from government documents, the author eschews the angst and high drama of another conversation-changing work from South Korea, Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning movie, Parasite. Bong, a man, enjoys the freedom to be as histrionic and emotive as he wants, while author Cho wisely sticks to a cold, antiseptic narration, free from any whiff of 'feminine hysteria' ... don’t think the book falls flat due to its format: It is a fascinating, terrifying, and necessary read ... Through her plain, straightforward, detached analysis of an unsustainable situation, Cho has brought South Korea to a long-overdue reckoning. With the book now in global translation, she’s exporting that reckoning to the world.
I hated reading Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, The debut novel by Cho Nam-Joo, which is the opposite of saying that I hated the book itself...it laid bare my own Korean childhood — and, let’s face it, my Western adulthood too — forcing me to confront traumatic experiences that I’d tried to chalk up as nothing out of the ordinary. But then, my experiences are ordinary, as ordinary as the everyday horrors suffered by the book’s protagonist, Jiyoung ... Like The Metamorphosis, Cho’s novel is written in an unemotional, almost clinical style ... At first, the footnotes were distracting. Then I realized their purpose was to suggest the degree to which the travails of Jiyoung, a fictional character, are grounded in fact. It’s South Korea’s dirty little secret that, despite its prosperity, technological advances and coolness factor, when it comes to gender equality, it’s no Finland ... Of course, it’s not just in Korea that such problems occur, which may be why Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 has been translated into more than a dozen languages and has become an international sensation. In South Korea, the book’s release led to a powerful backlash ... Perhaps the novel’s international exposure will force South Korea to have another reckoning with what it plans to do about its biggest elephant in the room. I expect threats just for writing this review.
This Korean bestseller chronicles the everyday struggle of women against endemic sexism. Its provocative power springs from the same source as its total, crushing banality ... What does it mean to narrate a life in a strictly chronological fashion? The linearity of the account feels claustrophobic, with the case-study style objectifying Jiyoung and stripping her of her interiority. Cho’s formal excision of any sense of imaginative possibility is highly effective in creating an airless, unbearably dull world in which Jiyoung’s madness makes complete sense. Her derangement is the only way out of the cramped paradox of gender-based roles ... The first Korean novel in nearly a decade to sell more than 1m copies, it has become both a touchstone for a conversation around feminism and gender and a lightning rod for anti-feminists who view the book as inciting misandry ... The character of Kim Jiyoung can be seen as a sort of sacrifice: a protagonist who is broken in order to open up a channel for collective rage. Along with other socially critical narratives to come out of Korea, such as Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film Parasite, her story could change the bigger one.