Posted in Reviews

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Recommended: oh yes
For men and others who are unaware of how crappily women are treated due to institutionalized efforts against them consciously or not, for those who need a refresher on gender equality, for a short read that packs a punch, for anyone looking for a cruel dose of reality

In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul, Kim Jiyoung—a millennial “everywoman”—spends her days caring for her infant daughter. Her husband, however, worries over a strange symptom that has recently appeared: Jiyoung has begun to impersonate the voices of other women—dead and alive, both known and unknown to her. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that very person. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, Jiyoung’s concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist, who listens to her narrate her own life story—from her birth to a family who expected a son, to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits, to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms and posted the photos online. But can her doctor cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?

I’ve lived and worked in Korea before, and it is my favorite place in the world. However that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its flaws, as every place will have. In the case of Korea, much of it centers around gender equality issues largely stemming from traditional roles that the culture has struggled to truly move beyond. Basically, women are treated quite poorly in many ways that are yet deemed not only acceptable, but expected.

Reading this as a woman, none of this was a surprise to me. I’ve experienced or known others who have experienced so many of the same situations, whether in Korea or in the United States. I’d be very curious to see what it was like for a man or someone who doesn’t have painful firsthand experience thinks of this.

“…she knew that something was unjust and frustrating; but Jiyoung had a hard time voicing her complaints because she wasn’t used to expressing her thoughts.

The writing style is pragmatic and sparse, with no beating around the bush or euphemisms to pretty up the ugly truths within. It’s highly effective as it lends the story that feeling that emotions are not distorting what is being said, and these are simply the facts of existence. A reader cannot deny understanding because it is so laid bare.

The citations of sources for facts within the novel were unusual, but punctuated that truth to the problem in an undeniable way. In fact, this all rang so true that I had to double check at the end that it WAS a novel. Even though this particular person is fictional, the experience is all to real.

Jiyoung is likeable and relatable. She is thoughtful and intelligent and a hard worker and still feels trapped by the unchanged societal views. She could be so many women around the world of any age.

The end is bitter yet accurate with the doctor’s notes on Jiyoung’s story. Though he thinks at length in a self-congratulatory way about how he’s enlightened to these problems of women in a way most men are not, he then goes on to show what a farce that is. He STILL has the same negative thoughts and behaviours regarding women and working mothers, wrapping this up with a somewhat depressing tone showing that knowledge does not necessarily equal true change.

Thanks to Goodreads for a free ARC copy from a giveaway in exchange for an honest review!


Reader, traveler, photographer, and always looking to learn!

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