New mom Kim Jiyoung begins to behave strangely -she has episodes where she pretends to be different women… but her unnerved husband suspects it’s probably not an act. Is is possessed? Or are those signs of a deeper mental health crisis? ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ by Cho Nam-Joo starts off strong, with an intriguing plot that makes one wonder “what the heck is going on with the protagonist?”. The author then begins to explore the root of the problem by going back in time, giving readers glimpses of different ages and phases of Jiyoung’s life.
Too soon, the pace slows down, the book begins to read like the author found a research article with a some statistics related to gender discrimination in Korea and decided to weave a story around it. Not sure if things were lost in translation, but the storytelling is awkward and dry in large parts. For example, let’s say a chapter is about Jiyoung’s work place – “Jiyoung slogged day and night to make her report perfect. She outperformed all the men in her team, but when the time came for promotions, she was denied one, yet again. A study in XYZ year found that women take thrice the time to climb the career ladder in Korea versus the rest of the world”. These are just made up sentences and not actually from the book, but I am just trying to explain how awkward the blending of real life facts felt against the fictional plot.
Everything is seen through Jiyoung’s lens, despite that, it feels like we don’t know enough about the protagonist, except for a string of unfortunate experiences she faces. No other character in the novel is memorable either. Cho Nam-Joo does a laudable job of describing just how crushingly demotivating life can be for women who grow up in a patriarchal society. A lot of women readers will be able to relate to a lot of incidents, and one can only hope it could make the other sex understand what it means to be constantly boxed into limited roles on the basis of gender.
I was expecting a deeper plot and was thrown off by the very random and rushed climax. It’s like you are given a slow build-up to something, but that ‘something’ never shows up. The ending isn’t bad, it’s actually a pretty decent way to wrap up, except it doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the novel. Overall, ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Book Review’ is an interesting look at how deeply entrenched gender discrimination is in Korea. Although, for many readers (women to be specific), it’s all a part of our daily life anyway, so it can quickly become a mundane read.
It’s a 3/5 for me.