Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme that was started by @Lauren’s Page Turners. This meme is quite easy to follow – just randomly pick a book from your to-be-read list and give the reasons why you want to read it. It is that simple.
This week’s book:
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
Blurb from Goodreads
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.
Why I Want To Read It
I first came across Korean writer Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 when the book’s movie adaptation announced its cast of characters. The male lead was played by popular and seasoned Hallyu star, Gong Yoo (for KDrama fans, Goblin and Coffee Prince, for international spectators, Train to Busan) while the female lead was played by Jung Yu-mi who was born a year later than the fictional Kim Jiyoung.
I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I started reading several negative comments. Both Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi were ostracized for taking part in a very “feminist” work of fiction. Perhaps not really ostracized but they were heavily criticized. As someone who is engrossed with Korean culture (Koreanophile if you must), I am familiar that Korean society leans heavily towards patriarchy, a trait it shares with most Asian countries (including the Philippines). They lean heavily towards patriarchy that they are willing to “cancel” (from a millennial’s point of view) artists and celebrities who show even the slightest tendencies towards feminism.
I do remember how fans of popular KPop girl group Red Velvet started burning the group’s CDs and member Irene’s personal merchandises after a photo of Irene holding/reading a feminist book made the rounds in social media. The same thing happened to actress and former member of Kpop girl group Miss A Suzy when a picture of her holding a similar feminist work surfaced in social media. Both also received several hate messages in their social media platforms.
On feminism in South Korea, I was reminded of another recent significant event. Around late 2018 to early 2019, the same time that the #MeToo movement is making waves in Hollywood, several allegations on sexual abuses by prominent and even veteran actors started surfacing. Some of these allegations date as far aback as 10 to 20 years ago. With the undergoing, it does really seem that, despite South Korea’s technological progress, it has some serious beef with feminism.
These have underlined my curiosity and made it imperative for me to read Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 in the hopes of getting deeper insights into this aspect of Korean culture. More importantly, the book touches a seminal and profound subject that resonates beyond South Korea. My anticipation for the book is burgeoning; I just hope I get to purchase a copy of it soon.
I am also starting to explore more of Korean literature so if you can suggest a great Korean literary piece, I would greatly appreciate it (you can skip Han Kang, and Please Look After Mom). And thus ends my Goodreads Monday post! How about you fellow reader, what book do you want to read? I hope you can share it in the comment box. For now, happy reading! Have a great week ahead!
P.S. Reading the Goodreads blurb, I’ve noted that it also touched on mental health. I find this really intriguing because South Korean society generally frowns on mental health issues the same way it looks down on feminism. So I guess this book hits two birds with one stone.