cover image Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-Joo, trans. from the Korean by Jamie Chang. Liveright, $20 (176p) ISBN 978-1-63149-670-7

Cho’s spirited debut offers a picture of rampant sexism in contemporary South Korea through the experience of a frustrated, subjugated, 33-year-old housewife. At a gathering with her husband Jung Daehyun’s family, Kim Jiyoung suddenly speaks up to her father in law, questioning the cultural expectation that she bend over backward to serve them. A distressed, apologetic Daehyun insists to his parents that “she’s not well,” and coaxes Jiyoung to see a psychiatrist whose report on Jiyoung forms the novel, offering insight on the challenges she’s faced. Jiyoung grew up in Seoul as a middle child with an older sister and younger brother, and learned from her grandmother to accept that boys receive special treatment. At her school, she is punished for eating lunch too slowly despite being given much less time than the boys. While the psychiatrist recognizes how sexism has shaped Jiyoung and reflects on his privilege as a man, he concludes his report without resolving to offer support and validation. While Cho’s message-driven narrative will leave readers wishing for more complexity, the brutal, bleak conclusion demonstrates Cho’s mastery of irony. This will stir readers to consider the myriad factors that diminish women’s rights throughout the world. (Apr.)