Review for "Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982" by Cho Nam-Joo (2020) Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” is an interesting novel that tracks the experiences of a generic everywoman (Jiyoung happens to be a very popular name in South Korea) from her birth in 1982 to the present day. We’re introduced to Jiyoung in the present where, at the age of 33, she has been hospitalized for a mental breakdown. The author then recalls her life story, giving familial and societal context as to how the character’s breakdown happened.
There are lots of examples of institutionalized sexism here, which begin long before Jiyong is born. Boys are the preferred gender of Korean parents, it’s no surprise that girls are an afterthought or discarded via abortion as soon as the gender is known (Jiyoung’s mother is no exception–we learn that she aborted a daughter before giving birth to her third child, a son). Throughout her life, Jiyoung is subjected to sexism and misogyny in every aspect of her existence. The needs of her older sister and Jiyoung’s come after her brother’s, as both of her parents cater to his every whim. She and her female peers are sexually harassed in school and punished for it. Even though she is a brilliant student and worker, she is openly discriminated against and skipped over for promotions at work. After she marries she settles into domestic life, and, even though she has no desire to stop working, ends up leaving her job to raise her daughter.
Resigned to a life of staying at home and raising her child, it is this last “straw” that finally undoes Jiyoung. Although I wholeheartedly followed this book and its message that patriarchy is having a detrimental effect on not only women but Korean society as a whole, the way this book is presented is not very engaging. Mixed into the fictional narrative are hard facts, along with footnotes and citations to illustrate the bottom line. I get it, but it was a bit off-putting and it disconnected me from the novel. Or maybe something got lost in translation here. Hmm…
I definitely recommend this book. It is always fascinating to read about life from a non-Western perspective, even though the parallels are familiar and apparent.