Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 | Cho Nam-Joo

fiction | korean | feminism | translated

First published 2016

Book cover for Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo




"I thought of Kim Jiyoung's character as a vessel that contains experiences and emotions that are common to every Korean woman."

-Cho Nam-Joo.



Kim Jiyoung is taken to a psychiatrist help after she starts to impersonate other women that she knows. The book then gives us the back story of her life, including her family history, education and adult life. It highlights the discrimination and judgement that women face and gives us her their thoughts, feelings and reactions.

In a society that prefers sons to daughters, Kim Jiyoung is the second daughter in a family with two daughters and a son. Her brother is the youngest sibling and receives preferential treatment from her parents and other family members. She wants to work in marketing and is a good student, but when she tries to get a job after college, she is made aware of the stark difference between how men and women are treated in the labour market. While at college, she is the victim of a stalking incident, her first experience of sexual harassment.

She gets married and is happy for a while, but her husband and his family put pressure on her to have a baby and give up her career. She comes around to the idea of having a child and giving up work temporarily, but is upset by her husband's dismissive attitude to helping her care for and raise their child together. She gives birth to a daughter and commits herself to being a housewife for the time being. She is ridiculed by young career men and is chastised by her doctor for having an easier life than women from his generation. She then starts exhibiting the first symptoms of mental illness.

At the end of the book, the narrative is switches to that of Jiyoung's psychiatrist. He describes her symptoms with great sympathy and is aware of her situation and the abuse she has suffered simply for being a woman. He recounts incidents in his own home and how his wife made him aware of how women are made to feel in Korea's extremely patriarchal society and what they have to sacrifice to be mothers and wives. His attempt at being a feminist is undermined when a female employee resigns because she is pregnant and he vows to only hire an unmarried woman for the role to avoid the same inconvenience in the future.

My Verdict: I loved, loved, loved this book! At the bottom of some pages are real data and statistics about women and their education, employment, etc. It is such a subtle story, there is no overt act of violence, it is a book that focuses on the micro; the everyday sexism that women have to skirt around and that men are completely unaware of. It sparked a whole new debate about sexism in Korea and around the World, and became an international bestseller. It's one of those rare and special books that just says exactly what it wants to say in the best and clearest way possible. 100% 5 Stars!

Review Award | 5/5

Posted 16.03.2021

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