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In 1982, Kim Jiyoung was the most common name for girls in South Korea. That fact sets the story for this book. Central character Jiyoung represents the ‘everywoman’, including author Cho, who stated that she was able to write this book so quickly because it mirrored her own life in many ways. Given the positive response from the female readership in South Korea, it represents them as well. And I found myself identifying with Jiyoung more times than I like to admit. The male readership has been less than positive with many seeing it as an extension of the anti-man Me Too movement.
Yet this is not a raging, feminist, man-bashing novel. Instead it is a simple story of what it is like to be a woman in a traditionally patriarchal society. Cho does not use special circumstances to tell the story of Jiyoung. Rather she uses the everyday norms. Unwanted sexual attention from male colleague? Check. Unwanted physical attention from strangers on public transport? Check. You may find it hard to believe that a new mother could be called a ‘mum-roach’ (a name for new mothers who give up their jobs to raise children and are viewed as having an easy life living off their husbands) within earshot, until you learn that Cho herself experienced the situation. What makes this book hit home more are the footnotes – Cho uses official statistics to back up her story.
This book sold over a million copies. With its translation into English one can see that figure rising. This book does not rely on a complex story with twists and turns and explosions to work. Instead it is effective because of its simplicity. This book must be on everyone’s to read piles next year. I loved it. I could not put it down. I promise that you will love it, and that you won’t regret reading it.— Hannah Reidell
A fierce international bestseller that launched Korea’s new feminist movement, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows one woman’s psychic deterioration in the face of rigid misogyny.
Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.
In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul lives Kim Jiyoung. A thirtysomething-year-old “millennial everywoman,” she has recently left her white-collar desk job—in order to care for her newborn daughter full-time—as so many Korean women are expected to do. But she quickly begins to exhibit strange symptoms that alarm her husband, parents, and in-laws: Jiyoung impersonates the voices of other women—alive and even dead, both known and unknown to her. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her discomfited husband sends her to a male psychiatrist.
In a chilling, eerily truncated third-person voice, Jiyoung’s entire life is recounted to the psychiatrist—a narrative infused with disparate elements of frustration, perseverance, and submission. Born in 1982 and given the most common name for Korean baby girls, Jiyoung quickly becomes the unfavored sister to her princeling little brother. Always, her behavior is policed by the male figures around her—from the elementary school teachers who enforce strict uniforms for girls, to the coworkers who install a hidden camera in the women’s restroom and post their photos online. In her father’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s fault that men harass her late at night; in her husband’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s duty to forsake her career to take care of him and their child—to put them first.
Jiyoung’s painfully common life is juxtaposed against a backdrop of an advancing Korea, as it abandons “family planning” birth control policies and passes new legislation against gender discrimination. But can her doctor flawlessly, completely cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?
Rendered in minimalist yet lacerating prose, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 sits at the center of our global #MeToo movement and announces the arrival of writer of international significance.