Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a novel about a normal South Korean woman and the reasons why she starts acting strangely. Jiyoung’s life story isn’t anything unusual: the second daughter born to a family who wanted a boy, made to share a room with her sister while her younger brother has his own, a good student tormented by boys and male teachers at school, goes to university but doesn’t get put up for internships, and who is expected to give up everything else to become a mother. The book charts that life, up until the present day when, with a young daughter and a husband, she seems to have a breakdown. What has caused this to happen to Kim Jiyoung, and is her story more than just one person’s life?

The novel is being marketed as a sensation in South Korea now translated into English, and it is clear why is so: this is a book that uses the story of one woman to look at misogyny and systematic oppression on a large scale, raising important points using the everyday details of life. The narrative is fast-paced and descriptive, going through the stages in Jiyoung’s life and showing how they aren’t exceptional, but also feel in many ways inevitable, even without knowing that she ends up a depressed mother. Society has given her certain paths to take, and even her fighting against the rigid walls of these paths is contained, decisions both hers and not hers at all. These themes aren’t surprising, but the style of the narrative works to show how everyday it is and how it can wear women down.

This is a short book that makes powerful points about the institutions that contain South Korean women, and indeed women all over the world, using the lens of one character and her relatively usual life. It is both an insight into one country’s society and a reflection of many others, and it is clear why it has been so popular.