As a strong feminist novella, this book blew me away. Following the life of Kim Jiyoung (surprise surprise), and those of her relatives, this title follows the progression of feminism in South Korea, spanning three generations. Readers are invited to become a fly on the wall of a typical Korean household and observe how from birth women and men are treated with such disparity. Kim as an ordinary thirty-something woman serves to represent her generation and capture the misogynistic obstacles women of her age have had to face and overcome. As such, this book intensely questions the societal role of modern women, and in doing so reaches across cultural boundaries.
Kim Jiyoung is struggling with being a mother and a housewife. She was forced to quit the job in order to fill this role and is desperately unhappy with her life. Her husband, Dae-hyeon becomes worried about her as she starts to act more and more peculiarly. She switches personas to mimick her mother, as well as her best friend who died while giving birth, and her late grandmother. He turns to a psychiatrist for help after Kim-Jiyoung disrespects his family. What unfolds is her family history and the cultural events that brought Kim to this point.
I relished my brief introduction to Korean culture and was enthralled by its informative and empowering content. I personally felt that this book read more like narrative non-fiction than fiction. It has a similar tone and pace to that of Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (another fantastic book). In various sections Nam-Joo actually uses referencing when referring to studies and articles. It therefore makes the topic of gender disparity in Korea amidst a financial crash both accessible and engaging – whilst simultaneously empowering, as I too want to take up arms to fight against misogyny (that is not only evident in Korea btw). I genuinely highlighted quotes on every other page – hence why I’m buying my own copy). Strangely, this book also reminded me of Girl, Woman, Other. Not unlike this title, Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 follows the heritage and upbringing of several generations. We are introduced to how attitudes towards women and their work has changed, yet, they exist within a culture that is still very traditionalist and male favoured – so the overall effect is that nothing has really changed at all for women (at least by the ending of this particular book).
Admittedly, I was a little unsure of the tone and prose of this book to begin with. It is quite clinical, with a lot of narrative distance, which I rather ignorantly thought was down to it being a translation to begin with. However, once the title begins to follow things a bit more chronologically it became much easier to follow and the ending was/is just ovation worthy. This cold tone documentation won’t be to everyone’s tastes, however, I think it is possible to look beyond it when the book is so short.
Though very short in comparison to many of the books I have read recently, this title really packed a punch. While I am not the same generation as Kim, many of her aspirations, fears and motivations resonated with me as a fellow female. In sum, this book has certainly encouraged me to read further around feminism in Korea and I have been thankful for this eye-opening introduction. This book is a testament to the saying ‘good things come in small packages’.