Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (translated from its original Korean by Jamie Chang) is a hard-hitting novel that’s enriched with real stats and citations to give further insight into gender culture and feminism in South Korea. More specifically, how women still have so far to go to even be close to achieving equality with men.

While Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 might be set in Seoul, it definitely feels like universal commentary. I was engrossed in the story as I found so much of it depressingly familiar.

Opening sentence: Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, or thirty-four in Korean age.

Bleak because it’s true

Goodness, to be honest, this is bleak and depressing to read. But that’s because the themes it explores will resonate with women all over the world. Written as a psychological report (hence the inclusion of stats that don’t feel out of place) Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 looks at the life of an average woman.

The conscious and sub-conscious acts of society are explored; situations that meant Jiyoung wasn’t confident having an opinion, didn’t question why her brother got preferential treatment and was expected to work for less money than a man in the same role, to name a few.

The motherhood imbalance

Just as putting the care of your child in another’s hands doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, quitting and looking after your child doesn’t mean you have no passion for your career.

Once Jiyoung became a mother, things got event worse for her. From the pressure to produce a son first, to the fact that women go on maternity leave and either don’t return or don’t climb that elusive corporate ladder. Motherhood affects women’s ability to earn and grow their careers because society is not set up to help them. Again, this applies to so many societies. It’s a struggle for women all over the world.

There is a small beacon of light in this story – Jiyoung’s mother. She tries to help her daughters where she can, encouraging them to live the life she missed out on herself. She doesn’t want the pattern to repeat, she wants things to progress.

Really though, I left this book feeling outraged. Women still have so far to go and it’s just atrocious that that is still the case. A visceral and important read.

Other books on the theme of feminism you might enjoy: Not Safe for Work by Isabel Kaplan and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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