Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

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Many books have been written about gender inequality and misogyny. But perhaps none in the style of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. Cho Nam-Joo’s novel’s titular character’s name literally means Jane Doe in Korean, and it’s a powerful story about the place of women in South Korean society.

Kim Jiyoung is an everywoman but one who dares to question the treatment meted out to her by men and women alike that serves to perpetrate the deep-rooted gender biases in South Korean society. Jiyoung’s description of her childhood is a vivid picture of the ingrained preference for males. Her younger brother gets the best of the food made at home, and new clothes, toys, and books while the girls have to make do with hand-me-downs. The situation only becomes worse as Kim Jiyoung progresses through each stage of her life.

I wouldn’t classify this book entirely as a novel. It felt like watching a docudrama, which is part fiction and part fact. Statements are backed up by references from various newspapers and other sources, which adds to the clinical feeling that pervades the book. But it doesn’t take away the small jolts of shock that you constantly receive at the extent of bigotry that is present in Korean society. Sure, women are dealt the bad hand all over the world but it’s only when you read about it in an intimate narrative such as this that it gets under your skin. By giving those links and references, Cho Nam-Joo shows just how real these problems are. For example, hidden camera pornography is such a widespread issue that the South Korean government had to crack down hard and threaten perpetrators with five years of jail time.

I found the book to be unsettling, a feeling heightened by the realism that Cho Nam-Joo infuses with the journalistic slant. It’s a unique way of storytelling and I find that the blend served very well to highlight the issue at hand.

A big thank you to NetGalley for giving me this copy for review!

Rating: 4/5

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