Welcome to Literary Ladies, a monthly article highlighting the best works in female works in literature. This months Literary Ladies book is Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (Translated by Jamie Chang).
Strategically chosen, Kim Jiyoung is one of the most common names for South Korean girls born in the 80’s. This story is just about one of them. Well, actually, with facts backed up within the footnotes of this novel, this is a story that is all too familiar to most South Korean women. In fact, this particular book hit quite the nerve with women in South Korea and proved to be a best-selling hit in the country.
Read from the point of view of Jiyoung’s therapist, we review the life story of Kim Jiyoung and focus on many of the events that lead to her ‘madness’. As soon as Kim Jiyoungs gender was confirmed as a baby she had already represented a disappointment to her family, and from there her life revolved around prioritising the men around her and limiting herself to what was expected of her as a lady. Experiencing what seemed to be solo battles throughout school and further into her career, Jiyoung proved to be always acutely aware that the root of the cause was simply her gender. Conclusively, this acknowledgement of her own claustrophobic existence was arguably the downfall of her well-being.
I put ‘madness’ in quotes because, firstly, that is the state Kim Jiyoung is described by those around her to be in, but also because the madness is truly her depression and her exhausted identity. The term ‘madness’ in relation to women’s mental health issues also harks back to prior generations putting women down as ‘mentally mad’ when they don’t conform to expectations and show symptoms of depression. It’s interesting to view it this way from a modern perspective as in many ways it does feel like it’s the same story rewritten into contemporary society. This ultimately makes the book even more poignant and really puts into perspective that a lot of societal norms that are deemed to be outdated are actually still apparent in present day.
Curiously, Jamie Chang’s translation initially came across a little cold as I read it as there isn’t much direct talk of individual emotions and thoughts. Rather, it seemed a bit clinical. Though in hindsight, I think this is more true to the way a therapist would recount the story of one of their patients and it also brings facts to the forefront and presents the naked truth with help of the citations within the footnotes.
Finally, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is certainly an intriguing read. Even if it is a fiction novel, it’s obvious Cho Nam-Joo wants to express that the story of this novel is a reality to a lot of women in South Korea. So, to have access to how other women in other cultures face sexism is eye opening and really interesting.
Grab a copy of Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 here.
Next month we’ll be reviewing A History of the world in 21 Women by Jenni Murray. Read it with me and buy your own book here.