Have you ever heard about the book Kim Ji Young, born in 1982? Personally, it was my last read of 2021, after hearing a lot of comments about the fact that there has been a revolution in Korea and all the history it involved, I was really looking forward to it, and I was finally able to read it in December.
Original title: 82년생 김지영
Author(s): Cho Nam-Joo
Year of publication: 2019
Book cover Kim Ji-Young, born in 1982 by Cho Nam-joo
The novel has grown from a short story about a young Korean girl to an earthquake that shook women from different parts of the world. Our protagonist, Kim Jung (which is the most common name among Koreans born in 1982) is clearly a woman like any other, with a broad youth and always in the shadows. Everything starts to become distorted when Kim suddenly begins to speak with the voices of her mother, a missing friend and many other women. What at first glance can be considered a joke has a tone of reaction, a tone of rebellion and for another group of people one of illness. This book is an assault on the literary landscape of all the countries in which it was published. Behind its deceptive simplicity lies a sense of danger that permeates all its pages, opening cracks in the standards of modern literature. At only 156 pages, the book sinks into you and creates mixed feelings that are at times unfathomable.
The author, Cho Namjoo tells the story of Kim Jung’s life, from the beginning of elementary school to the age of 33. Where she becomes the mother of a beautiful baby girl. What’s so special about that, would you say? Cho tells us openly and through Kim and her environment (school, family and work) what women in Korea have to endure and suffer just because they are women: born to have children, take care of the house (and children), decide little or nothing about their lives. It is believed that they will quit their jobs to reconcile the family. People take it for granted that they have to take care of their children. It is taken for granted that the man is the one who brings home the money and that they have to give up everything they want.
-I don’t even know if I’ll get married or have children. Or maybe I’ll die sooner. Why do I have to give up what I want to be or do for a future that I don’t know if it will come or not?
Something positive that I liked, but at the same time made me feel helpless and some annoyance is what Kim has seen over the years, which was bad news for the most part. Being a woman in the world is hard, although it is true that it is getting less and less, in Asian countries it seems a little more difficult because their beliefs make the road to equality slower. We see that our protagonist finds it hard to stand out in her school, not only for her, but also for her other classmates. We see how the women close to Kim rebel against “the system,” but ultimately end up being blamed for something that is originally a man’s fault.
The subject of motherhood is also shocking, they have been taught from an early age that they must have a son (even a mother-to-be would feel bad if she had a girl in her belly!), and I could go on with examples that are in themselves very crude for the reality of the female sector. In my opinion, the most ridiculous and humiliating situation, and this book is a real criticism of what shamefully continues to happen to this day. Cho shows us the harsh reality of Korean women in very real characters. And while in this short summary (short to avoid giving spoilers…) I focus more on the life of women as mothers. It also shows how it is treated in the workplace (colleagues, management positions, jobs that cannot be occupied by women…), in the family and of course men, where some people think they have too much power.
What I didn’t like and what kept me from giving it 5 stars was the plot itself. While it is interesting how it encompasses feminist issues and the limitation of women’s voices in Korea, the synopsis tells us at the beginning that Kim lost her voice so much that she ended up speaking in the voice of her mother, friends, etc. This only happens in the first few pages and is not even discussed further, i.e. there is no consistency. Of course, in the novel we are given a hint as to why this happens, but I would have liked to have seen the transition to something deeper, like Kim speaking as if she were someone else. In itself, it has more positives than negatives. I highly recommend it if you are looking to read a very interesting book, full of new facts and incredible phrases that will leave the reader wanting to know more. After reading it, I understand how popular it has become because it has such a real story that would shake the heads of those misogynistic minds that refuse to evolve and think that women are weak and are only good for supporting men and having children.
Written by: Zarina Paucar
Reviewed by: Andrea Ramirez