This is the feminist novel from South Korea which created a rage when it was first published in 2016 and went on to sell over a million copies over the course of two years. It made news once again when the film adaptation was released in October 2019 starring top South Korean actors Jung Yu-mi and Gong Yoo.
That was when it caught my attention. I had been bitten by the K-bug only a few months prior and was devouring Kdramas on Netflix at a phenomenal pace. Anything South Korean was top-of-the-feed news to me, when along came this story begging the question – Who is Kim Jiyoung?
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the story of one woman born at the end of the twentieth century. The novel is a journey you embark on with the protagonist as she traverses every moment of her life, during which she endures the endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that comes with being a woman.
The novel starts in 2016:
Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely.
Kim Jiyoung is depressed.
Her husband believes he supports her but Kim Jiyoung doesn’t think it is enough. She is unable to explain to him how little his sacrifices are in comparison to all that she has lost.
Kim Jiyoung is the girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.
Kim Jiyoung is the sister who was made to share her room while her little brother had one to himself.
Kim Jiyoung is the student preyed upon by male teachers at her school.
Kim Jiyoung is the daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed on her way home late at night.
Kim Jiyoung is the deserving student who doesn’t get selected for internships.
Kim Jiyoung is the model employee who gets overlooked for a promotion.
Kim Jiyoung is the wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
The author’s choice for the protagonist’s name is deliberate. Kim Jiyoung was the most common name for Korean women of that generation and thus represents any and every Korean woman.
What hits you hard as you read this book is that, although it is based in South Korea, the novel is equally relevant, if not more, to us Indians as well. Asian culture as a whole is very similar when seen on a broad spectrum. South Korea is one of the most economically developed countries in all of Asia, however, they are extremely conservative, much like India.
Asian women have had to fight, and continue to fight patriarchy every minute of every day. For a girl born in 1982, the story also acknowledges the progression when women of our generation began to expect education and career as a need, as opposed to our mothers’ generation.
While the original was published in South Korea in 2016, the English translation was only published earlier this year. This was an important book on my TBR because I was desperate to read what it had to say. I wouldn’t go so far as to hail it the literary find of the year for there is nothing remarkable about the author’s writing style, or translation for that matter.
It is a simply a woman’s story – pragmatic, unembellished. All the author has done is point out the facts of Kim Jiyoung’s life to you. The opinions are for you to make. The questions are for you to ask.
These facts are what contribute to the novel’s sensational success. The novel has given rise to a new feminist wave in South Korea, a country otherwise obsessed with extremely high beauty standards.
Women are refusing to bow down to the patriarchy and are choosing a life of singlehood and independence. Men, on the other hand have criticised it for making negative, sexist generalisations against them. Many women, including several celebrities have been trolled on social media for speaking in support of the book and/or movie. The book has been called out as the reason for break-ups and arguments; in some cases, even divorces.
It goes to show how real the portrayal of Kim Ji Young is and how relatable, for it to have such a lasting effect on Korean women. I wonder what would the impact of such a novel be on India and its women who are no different in their fight against the patriarchy.
Title: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
Author: Cho Nam-Joo, Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang
Publisher: Scribner UK, an imprint of Simon and Schuster UK
Edition/Year: First Edition 2020
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Available on Amazon.
About the Author:
Cho Nam-Joo was a television scriptwriter for nine years. Her debut novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, has sold in nineteen countries and over a million copies. She lives in Korea.
Jamie Chang is an award-winning translator and teaches at the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea.
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