Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2020. 144p. Jamie Chang. ISBN 9781631496707. $20. F
Korean author Cho’s semiautobiographical portrayal of life in contemporary Korea opens with Kim Jiyoung’s husband, Daehyun, suspecting that she has had a psychotic break. Jiyoung had begun to show signs that other people, including her mother and a dead friend, have possessed her mind and spirit. To relay Jiyoung’s story, Cho deploys a formal, almost clinical prose style that subtly but effectively reinforces the challenges Korean women like Jiyoung endure throughout their lives in multiple contexts—familial, educational, and work-related. Clever footnotes embedded in the text provide economic and social statistics to confirm the almost rampant misogyny. Less effective is the introduction of a framing narrative by a male psychiatrist toward the story’s end. Though the doctor seems compassionate, even trying momentarily to draw parallels between Jiyoung’s troubles and those of other women he knows, this new narrative voice seems abrupt.
VERDICT A relatively quick read at under 200 pages, the novel was originally published in 2016 and is credited with launching Korea’s own #MeToo moment. It effectively communicates the realities Korean women face, especially discrimination in the workplace, rampant sexual harassment, and the nearly impossible challenge of balancing motherhood with career aspirations. [See Prepub Alert, 10/7/19.]

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