I read Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 this month and loved it. Let’s get on to the review!
Author: Cho Nam-Joo
Translator: Jamie Chang
Published April 14th 2020 by Liveright (The original book in Korean Language was first published October 14th 2016)
Genre: Contemporary, Adult
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. She is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. A female preyed upon by male teachers at school. A daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. A good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. A model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. A wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. She is depressed. She is mad. She is her own woman. Kim Jiyoung is every woman.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the life story of one young woman born at the end of the twentieth century raises questions about endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that are relevant to us all..
Trigger Warnings: talk of mental illnesses like depression, harassment of women
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a powerful book. It begins with Daehyun noticing his wife Kim Jiyoung acting strangely, recently having given birth to a daughter. I won’t state the details of Jiyoung’s behavior, for spoiler reasons, but it worries him and he decides to seek the help of a psychiatrist. We then go back in time and learn about Jiyoung’s early life and all the circumstances that may have led to her present illness.
Kim Jiyoung has had a difficult life. Born at a time in Korean society when the birth of boys was preferred over girls, Jiyoung had to overcome many obstacles. As a child, she was scolded by her grandmother for tasting her baby brother’s formula because her grandmother detested the idea of her precious grandson’s formula being taken by someone like Jiyoung. This is one of the many incidents that took place in Jiyoung’s childhood and set the tone of the story. The childhood of Jiyoung and that of her elder sister was rife with discrimination and oppression, not only at home but even in school. Girls were rarely made class monitors, so when there was an increase in the number of female class monitors, an article was published on the same!
The discrimination, of course, continued well into Jiyoung’s teenage years and adulthood. From being harassed by men, to having a difficult time finding a job despite being equally qualified and often more so than her male peers, Jiyoung was constantly reminded that she was considered inferior to men. After her marriage, she was forced to quit her job to become a mother to stop her relatives and in-laws from pestering her and Daehyun about having a child. Her troubles, of course, didn’t end with the birth of her daughter. It only persisted.
“Every field has its technological advances and evolves in the direction that reduces the amount of physical labour required, but people are particularly reluctant to admit that the same is true for domestic labour. Since she became a full-time housewife, she often noticed that there was a polarised attitude regarding domestic labour. Some demeaned it as ‘bumming around at home’, while others glorified it as ‘work that sustains life’, but none tried to calculate its monetary value. Probably because the moment you put a price on something, someone has to pay.”
This book is a poignant tale of a woman’s life in South Korea, but it transcends national boundaries and will resonate with every woman all over the world. The bias, the unfairness, the misogynistic remarks of men, are all too familiar for women of every age.